The day-to-day life of the Riley family is like that of many others during the pandemic. The kind where trips to the grocery store are their only reprieve from the house, and the most exciting part of the day is when Amazon deliveries arrive.
That monotony is why when Meghan Riley told two of her three kids last week that they could decide whether to return to school in August or opt for the distance learning option, they chose the former.
On Monday night, Meghan changed her mind. After doing more research on the effects of COVID-19 on children, she decided the risk was too great.
“I don’t want to make a decision that will affect my children for the rest of their lives because of something I could have prevented easily,” Meghan said.
Their family has already seen the impact of COVID-19 in their home. Meghan’s husband, Buddy Riley, contracted the virus last month. They had him quarantined upstairs for several weeks and weren’t able to do much for him besides calling through the door to check on him and leaving food on the floor outside.
Buddy didn’t share what having the virus was like with Meghan while he was sick, but opened up after he recovered.
“There was a point where I wanted to die. I didn't want to die, but it felt so bad. I was okay with dying because that's how bad I felt,” Buddytold Meghan.
Meghan said they’re lucky no one else in the family contracted the virus, and knocked on wood as she did so.
The family has done as much as they can to stay home since the pandemic began. They even bought eight chickens and a coop so they have a steady supply of eggs.
The Senatobia School District back to school plan didn’t do much to inspire confidence in Meghan about the safety of returning to school, especially after seeing the virus up close.
“They can't control whether you get the flu or not,” Meghan said. “They can't control whether a kid gets lice or not. They're not going to be able to control it, period.”
Paisley Riley, 15, a rising sophomore at Senatobia High School, was mad when her Mom reversed her decision to give them the choice of their instruction method. Evan Riley, 13 and an eighth grader at Senatobia Middle school, was a bit disappointed. Morale around the house is low when they don’t get to see their friends.
Paisley got caught trying to sneak out of the house in April to go hang out with her friends in the parking lot of their local Walmart. She misses it.
Even in non-pandemic times, the Walmart parking lot, and others like it, are a sanctuary for high schoolers. One of the few places they can congregate and socialize well into the night.
“Don’t you dare compromise our family because you just want to ‘live your best life,’” Meghan said.
The Riley’s will reevaluate their situation at the end of the first nine weeks. Meghan thinks it’s better to let the school have an in-person test run first.
“They have distance learning in place for a reason,” Meghan said. “ If there wasn't a reason for it, they wouldn’t offer it.”
There’s another reason the Riley’s need to avoid any unnecessary risk of bringing the virus home. Evan’s twin sister, Emma Riley, is immunocompromised. She also exhibits signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder, which manifests itself as a need to keep things clean.
“I don’t like germs,” Emma said. “At all.”
Paisley and Evan believe they learn more in-school than online. Meghan acknowledges that they thrive in the classroom, and that distance learning is no replacement.
“I really wanted for them to be able to go back because they miss it so much,” Meghan said. “Either way, I know they’re gonna be okay.”
Emma has been homeschooled for the past two years, and all three kids have been homeschooled before. This gives Meghan confidence that Paisley and Evan can handle distance learning. She works part-time as a tech at an optometrist’s office, and is thankful they’re independent enough that she can continue to work while they’re in the distance learning program.
The Senatobia School District uses the Google Classroom and Active Student platforms for distance-learning instruction.
They’re comfortable using those platforms now, and are hoping the classwork is up to par this time around. They were given “kid stuff,” like word searches, as teachers were forced to transition to online learning with no time to prepare.
Luckily, they were in the state testing prep part of the semester, so Meghan feels like the most important course work was already accounted for.
Paisley and Evan are still yearning for the fun parts of school, the social interaction and extracurriculars. Paisley and Evan transferred to their Senatobia schools halfway through the 2019-2020 school year. Paisley felt like she had just made friends at her new school when schools shut down in March. It was also the week before prom and she’d already picked out her dress.
Evan had just started going to a local gym regularly when the pandemic shut down non-essential businesses. Like many, both of them are just tired of the restrictions. Still, they’re grateful that they won’t have to worry about getting sick at a school hastily reopened.
“It may be complete chaos,” Paisley said.
“Probably will be,” Evan added.