Scared and watchful, moms said they want their children to remain in in-person learning despite the Delta variant causing another COVID-19 surge in New Mexico.
After about a year of remote learning, New Mexico public schools started the new year in August and returned to in-person learning. But the Delta variant is spreading the virus, causing a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in New Mexico and throughout the country. The virus is spreading predominantly among people who are unvaccinated. In recent weeks, cases of COVID-19 have increased in children, who cannot get vaccinated yet if under the age of 12.
When asked if Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has any plans of returning students to remote learning this year if COVID-19 cases continue to rise, her press secretary, Nora Meyers Sackett, said in an email that “ensuring that New Mexico students can safely be in classrooms is a top priority – the number one tool to ensuring this is getting New Mexicans vaccinated, which continues to be our main focus, including New Mexico schools staff, which is why the governor implemented a school vaccination policy. We encourage every New Mexican to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect New Mexico children by getting vaccinated and wearing a mask indoors.”
The mothers who talked to NM Political Report said that while they are anxious about the virus and are staying informed about it, they also feel it’s really important to have their children back in a brick-and-mortar school setting despite the risk.
Kristina Tice, an Albuquerque mom whose 10th grade daughter was diagnosed with leukemia in 2018, said that despite the dangers of COVID-19 and her daughter’s fragile health, she felt the importance of her daughter being back at school outweighed the risk and fear.
“I honestly don’t think she would survive another year of remote learning,” Tice said.
Tice’s daughter is in a unique situation because prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, she already experienced remote learning due to her illness. Because of her recent health problems, she also cannot be vaccinated at present, Tice said.
Tice described her daughter, who is 15, as “excited to be with her friends,” again now that she’s returned to in-person learning.
“She thrives in a more structured environment than being at home and expected to log into her computer. She’s almost 16 but she’s had so much of her life taken away from her, she’s very happy to be back. She needs it,” Tice said.
Another Albuquerque mom, Autumn Taylor, has three children in school – one in high school, one in elementary school and one in pre-Kindergarten. She said everyone in her family is vaccinated that can be and that she looks at the pandemic differently now.
“I feel anxious, nervous. But it’s hard to get back into that mode of being super protective like we were at the beginning,” Taylor said.
Araceli Grimaldo, a Santa Fe resident who speaks Spanish, told NM Political Report through an interpreter that she has two sons, one in fifth grade and one in ninth grade. She said that “every day [COVID-19] makes her nervous.” Every day she is stressed, she said. But, she still prefers that her kids are physically at school this year.
“With the precaution of washing hands and wearing masks, it’s much better for them to be in school,” she said.
Grimaldo said that everyone in her family who is eligible to be vaccinated has been vaccinated. But her youngest son is too young for the vaccine.
Another Albuquerque mom, E.D., who asked to be referred to by her initials because she has a public job, said she has signed up her two children, ages 2 and 4, for a vaccination research study for their age group in an attempt to get them vaccinated sooner rather than later.
Her children go to a private preschool. E.D. hired a nanny last year to help with the children while she worked from home, but she said she and her husband opted to send their children to preschool this year.
“We made the best decision for our kids to be around other kids this year,” E.D. said.
E.D. has another worry. Her grandmother is in her 90s and she wants her children to be able to see their great-grandmother as much as they can. She said the family has mitigated the risk by having a lot of backyard dinners and both the children’s great-grandmother and grandmother are vaccinated.
“But, there might be a period when they don’t see them for a while,” she said of her children because they are in pre-kindergarten.
E.D. said that she sent her children to preschool last year in March 2021.
“Our older child really needed that interaction. We had a home care provider and school and we combined the two of them. It made such a difference for both. Speech development for the youngest and a sense of routine. Our four-year-old is ready to start to read. He’s learning how to be around other children. It was important for him to be there,” she said.
Taylor echoed those sentiments when she spoke about sending her youngest, who is also in pre-Kindergarten, to in-person learning in August.
“I feel like with him, it’s probably even a little riskier [because of the Delta variant] but I feel he is the one who needs it the most. Right now we feel safe but will we next week or a month from now?” she said.
Still there are sacrifices
Despite sending their kids back to in-person learning, the moms we talked to spoke of continuing to restrict their children with friend visits and extracurricular activities. Grimaldo said her sons love basketball but she is not letting them play this year because of the Delta variant. She also does not let her children hang out with their friends after school.
“They come straight home,” she said, as a way to lessen the risk.
Tice said she is letting her daughter participate in ROTC drill practice because the children are masked and the activity is outside.
“But a [school] dance inside? I don’t know that we’ll let her do that,” she said.
Taylor said her son in elementary school is playing football this year but her family is “on the fence” about his upcoming birthday.
“Do I make my kid sad? Last year it was in the park with just family. Do we chance it [by inviting his friends]? It’s interesting,” she said.
E.D. said she and her husband let their two young kids play with other kids outside if the other families “are cognizant of COVID and mask when indoors and their kids mask indoors,” she said.
Grades and learning loss
Taylor said her children’s grades suffered some because of the remote learning caused by the pandemic despite how hard the school and teachers worked to keep the children engaged. But, she said she and her husband have been forgiving.
“We were supportive. This is miserable and there is total uncertainty and the last thing on their minds were academics,” she said.
Taylor said she has heard “horror stories,” from friends and that some schools “got it right” and some “left kids in the dust.”
“I’ve heard stories of parents having to work all day while the kids were at grandma’s house and then teaching them at night and I can’t imagine. I can’t even imagine how hard it is for the kids this year because the kids are on all different levels depending on how parents were engaged last year,” she said.
Grimaldo said her children also had “a hard time with grades last year.”
She said her sons did not like online learning. She was able to be at home with them while they were attending remote school but she said she definitely worries about lost learning time.
“It was really hard to do homework online. Now it’s a lot better,” she said.
Tice said her daughter was so “burnt out” from remote learning last year that she had a “hard time staying on task.” Tice said that both she and her husband work full-time but her boss allowed her some flexibility so she could help her daughter with her schoolwork.
“I know a lot of women are not that lucky to have a pretty supportive workplace environment. I wouldn’t have gotten through it without my boss,” Tice said.
How moms are feeling
The moms we talked to said they are feeling the emotional gamut trying to keep their kids safe and send them back to in-person school.
Taylor used words like “anxious” and “nervous” to describe how she was feeling but she also said she has been angry.
“It infuriates me when I see people call it a hoax. I feel frustrated [that] the whole entire pandemic our family has stayed to the extreme side of being protective and proactive and now for this (the Delta variant spread) to be happening, it’s very frustrating and it’s scary,” she said.
Tice said her situation with her immunocompromised daughter in a pandemic has been “kind of crazy” and that she has been, at times, “terrified.” She said she also worries.
“If people [teachers] don’t want to get vaccinated, will they quit, will there be more teacher shortages? We should have focused on getting our kids back in school instead of Joe Schmo going to the movies. If teachers quit because of vaccination [policies], who will enforce our kids to wear masks and who will sanitize tables and what other issues will there be because of lack of staffing?” she said.
Grimaldo said it’s “definitely stressful” that she has to oversee the management of COVID-19 for her family.
E.D. said that even for women who have a supportive partner who does their share of housework and childcare, moms are feeling the bigger burden.
“I think talking with all my mom friends who are full-time workers and in highly stressful, demanding jobs, and who also have young children, the consensus has been figuring out these decisions. It falls on the mom even when you have a very supportive partner who does their share of the work in the house and with the kids. There’s something about being a mom and deciding what’s best for your kids. It creates a super heavy load to make sure our kids are well cared for,” she said.
E.D. said she has at least one woman friend who has shifted from full-time to part-time work.
“A lot [of moms] have taken a step back,” she said. “Promotions put on the back burner so they have the flexibility to take care of their kids.”