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Caroline thought her daughter was doing OK with home learning. Then she got a note

Caroline Tung Richmond of Frederick, Md., with her son, 4, and daughter, 7.
Caroline Tung Richmond
Caroline Tung Richmond of Frederick, Md., with her son, 4, and daughter, 7.

Caroline Tung Richmond was on the phone one night recently talking about how virtual schooling had its challenges, but she thought it was going all right for her 7-year-old daughter.

Her school was open and back to in-person learning, but they had made the decision to keep her home for now to reduce the COVID-19 risk to their 4-year-old son, who isn't yet eligible for a vaccine.

"I said, let's focus on math and reading, just because she had fallen really behind on reading, and I actually thought she had done OK, all things considered," Richmond said.

What she didn't know was that her daughter overheard the whole conversation. And she had a very different take on the matter.

"She actually wrote a note and said, please let me go back to school, please," Richmond said. "So, I guess on my side, I thought she was doing OK, but I think a lot of it is the social aspect and also just being amongst her peers. ... She is really feeling the missed connections, and she does do better learning in school."

The note that Caroline Tung Richmond's daughter gave her mom asking if she could please go to in-person school.
/ Caroline Tung Richmond
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Caroline Tung Richmond
The note that Caroline Tung Richmond's daughter gave her mom asking if she could please go to in-person school.

Richmond is one of millions of parents across the U.S. now grappling with a rapidly spreading omicron variant that has dashed any hope for a smooth start to school in 2022.

NPR's All Things Considered spoke to three moms about how they are navigating this new stage of the coronavirus pandemic, what their plans are for school and what happens when someone in the house does test positive for COVID-19.

Caroline Tung Richmond, Frederick, Md. — mom to a 7-year-old daughter, 4-year-old son

As Richmond puts it: "It feels like we're one sneeze away from getting omicron."

In the meantime, she is making do with makeshift home learning, as the school doesn't have virtual options.

"I think [my daughter] has become one with her iPad, and I wish I had the bandwidth too to maybe do a little bit of home schooling with her," Richmond said. "But I also know teachers are really stretched thin. ... I don't know how much more we can ask out of them to do the hybrid plan again. But it would be helpful if we had a virtual option for these next few weeks as we're weathering the omicron surge."

The latest coronavirus variant has made her wonder if she should send her daughter back to school, or her son back to day care when it opens, and if getting this variant is inevitable.

"My main concern is my son is 4 and not old enough to get vaccinated. And even though I've read studies that say the chances are if he does get COVID, it will be a very mild case and kids tend to bounce back, I can't help but think of worst-case scenarios," she said.

Leah Hudnall, Cleveland — mom to a 4-year-old son and a baby on the way

Leah Hudnall of Cleveland with her husband and their 4-year-old son.
/ Leah Hudnall
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Leah Hudnall
Leah Hudnall of Cleveland with her husband and their 4-year-old son.

Leah Hudnall's worst fear came true when her son tested positive for the coronavirus after being exposed in his classroom. The virus then spread to the rest of the family, including Hudnall, who is pregnant and can't take over-the-counter cough medicine.

"It was very hard to find any providers who would give us a PCR test. It was doubly hard to find even an at-home test kit," she said. "There's no instructions once you test positive on what to do. So I winged it with children's Tylenol and children's Benadryl because we couldn't get in touch with his pediatrician's office with the volume in Cuyahoga County."

Her son had a mild case and has since recovered. Before the winter break ended, though, her son's school decided to go virtual for the first week back.

But going back to remote learning this time was different because her son started in-person this school year after being remote his entire first year of preschool. So while he did go back to remote for a short time, he at least had met his instructors, teachers and classroom aides in person before.

"So now that they're back on the iPads, they know one another and they have that camaraderie," Hudnall said.

Hudnall's son went back to in-person school this week, but her COVID-19 worries haven't subsided.

"My fear is that we'll replay this thing all over again," she said. "Someone will be exposed, and trying to find a test, trying to get an appointment. But I'm going to try to take it, really, week by week like the rest of us, 'cause if I go too deep into the future, I'll get anxious, and that's not good for anyone."

Jill Drouillard, Nashville, Tenn. — mom to a 15-year-old daughter

Jill Drouillard with her daughter, 15.
/ Jill Drouillard
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Jill Drouillard
Jill Drouillard with her daughter, 15.

While schools in Maryland and Ohio can still move to remote learning if they choose, Tennessee schools cannot because of a law. That's something that bothers Jill Drouillard, whose 15-year-old daughter is back in the classroom after going through her entire freshman year remotely.

"It was the most difficult decision I've ever had to make as a parent to keep her at home when, you know, she saw her peers going to class," Drouillard said. "I just knew for our safety it was the best thing. And she got real depressed and had a lot of anxiety, to where her doctor said she had lost 15 pounds. And she's a little thing. So that was really scary."

Drouillard said her daughter got counseling and that helped, but she really started thriving once she was able to go back in person and see her friends again.

Still, Drouillard says she feels terrible about the current COVID-19 landscape in her area and is nervous about what might happen with the omicron variant.

"You know, she's vaccinated. She's about to be able to get her booster. And she masks, but most teachers don't," she said. "It's everyone, every man for himself kind of right now."

When asked what would make her feel safer, Drouillard said it would likely be something as severe as moving to a different state.

"Because as long as we're here, I don't see the laws changing or people taking it seriously," she said. "It's very frustrating, makes you feel very alone when you know her friends' parents aren't taking it seriously, and you can start to feel like maybe I'm the one that's making this stuff up. Maybe I'm paranoid, you know, so it's good in something like this to have the opportunity to talk to other parents that are going through the same thing."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.