When Schools Reopen, Grandparent Caregiver's Safest Choice Is Home Schooling NPR's Michel Martin speaks with Keith Lowhorne, a caregiver to his three young grandchildren, about the possibility of schools reopening in the fall amid the coronavirus pandemic.
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When Schools Reopen, Grandparent Caregiver's Safest Choice Is Home Schooling

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When Schools Reopen, Grandparent Caregiver's Safest Choice Is Home Schooling

When Schools Reopen, Grandparent Caregiver's Safest Choice Is Home Schooling

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Parents of younger school-age kids are also making some tough decisions after President Trump said last week that he would put pressure on governors and other officials to open schools in the fall. So with no clear guidance on how to reopen safely, school districts and families have been scrambling to figure things out for themselves.

For students living with extended family like grandparents, the question of returning to school is even more fraught. Because of age or preexisting conditions, those family members are most vulnerable to the most serious effects of the virus. Some 2.4 million children in the United States live in a household headed by grandparents. Keith Lowhorne is a grandparent caregiver for his three grandchildren, ages 6, 5 and 3. He's taking care of them along with his wife, and they live just outside of Huntsville, Ala. And he is with us now.

Hello, Mr. Lowhorne. Thanks so much for joining us.

KEITH LOWHORNE: Thank you very much for having me.

MARTIN: So, as we mentioned, you're in Huntsville. What's the plan in Alabama?

LOWHORNE: They haven't really made very many plans. I think they're leaving it up to each district individually. And in the district that we live in, they're going to offer three plans. One of those plans is just to have a regular school with, you know, kids in a classroom - that is, as is normal. Then they're going to have what they're referring to as a virtual education, which is like homeschool. And then they're going to offer a possibility of a virtual academy, where that is, like, a child stays home, and the teacher actually does study plans and helps the parents teach.

So it seems to me that that one is probably the most viable, especially for those parents and those grandparents said that are having problems interacting with the schools because the educational system has changed so much since most of us went to school.

MARTIN: So what are you thinking about? How are you trying to sort this out?

LOWHORNE: Well, I tell you, it's been a topic of discussion for us because last year, we had such - while the school year was short, we had a wonderful school year because it was - the 6-year-old was in kindergarten, so we were really looking forward to him going back to school and being in the first grade and, you know, being the big boy and just having another wonderful school year. So it's kind of disappointing for us.

But it's just one of those things that, you know, we've thought about it, and we've studied, and we just don't think that it's safe right now for these kids to get back together. And you just don't know what's going to be around. So it's just safe for everybody - and considering that we're older, too, so we're just at that vulnerable age.

MARTIN: You're the chair of the new kinship committee of the Alabama Foster and Adoptive Parents Association. So, you know, in that role, you're talking with other grandparents who are caregivers like you. What are you hearing from them?

LOWHORNE: Let me tell you, it is the topic of discussion. There's no question about that. It doesn't matter where you go or what you talk about or who you talk to on the phone or on a computer that it's - that is the main discussion. I think it's just one of those things that it's just - it's got everybody - is there a right answer? And I don't know that there is a right answer, but is there a wrong answer? I don't know that there's a wrong answer, either.

So I think it's just going to be one of those things that's - each family's going to have to make their own decision. And then the school systems are going to have to adapt to what's best for the families versus - not what's best for the school system. It's what's best for the families.

MARTIN: And so you were saying that for you, you think that the best approach is going to be for you to homeschool with help from the school district, right?

LOWHORNE: Yeah, absolutely. That's the best decision that we've made because we have a very good school. We know the teachers. And one of the things that we have to deal with also is because the 6-year-old and the 5-year-old both got IEPs. And so those are individualized educational plans, so whether it's therapies, whether it's physical therapy, occupational therapy, just seeing a therapist or whether it's some sort of physician that they have to see on a regular basis, those all take part into the educational system as well.

MARTIN: But do you ever worry - do you worry that something's going to get missed because they're not with other children?

LOWHORNE: That is probably one of our biggest concerns because when we put the youngster in kindergarten last year, we were really worried that he could possibly interrupt the class and do some of the things that children do. We couldn't have been happier. I mean, he blossomed. He just did great.

He even started riding the bus. We were scared to death just to put him on the bus. And the bus driver was wonderful. And it got to the point that they even let him out at the front of the school door instead of walking him into his class. He'd be right into his classroom.

MARTIN: Wow.

LOWHORNE: So we know that he's going to miss that.

MARTIN: Yeah.

LOWHORNE: We know that. And that's one of the things that is probably dreadful about this, is because he has friends, and he's going to miss seeing those friends.

MARTIN: Could I just say, this must be so hard because you're trying to protect your own health and the health of your wife and their health but also give them what they need to thrive when you're not here. And I'm just trying to think about what that must be like for you.

LOWHORNE: It's very hard. I mean, it's hard. I mean, you know, we have to do what's best for us, which sometimes may not be what's best for them, which in this case, I mean, would it probably be OK to send them back to class, into a school? I don't know. I mean, that's a hard one to find out on your own until you do it.

But we know for our family, it's best for us to keep them here at home and us to do the best that we can and hopefully get help from the educational system to give them the best educational classroom that they can have for this coming year or until this stuff ends.

MARTIN: Keith Lowhorne is a grandparent caregiver, along with his wife, of his three grandchildren. They live just outside of Huntsville, Ala.

Mr. Lowhorne, thanks so much for talking with us. And I hope we'll keep in touch, and best of luck.

LOWHORNE: Thank you very much. I appreciate your time and you allowing me to do this.

(SOUNDBITE OF KERO ONE FEAT. SAM OCK'S "SHORTCUTS")

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