(Sort of) Back to School

By now, many Charleston-area families are knee-deep in the most unusual back to school season ever. What started for many kids and parents as a long summer break has — for better or worse — not ended, but there is a little more homework. For this school year, we’re talking with a number of local families to see how the pandemic-altered school year is affecting their kids, their jobs and their everyday lives. We’ll be checking in with the folks you see here and a few others over the next few weeks.

The Bailey Family; photo by Ruta Smith
Charmanique Bailey

Daughter, 9, and son, 6, attend school in Berkeley County. Pictured (left) with fiance Keimani Manigault (right).

City Paper: How has COVID affected your work or your fiance’s work?

Charmanique Bailey: It’s affected us a lot. I actually just left my job [at T-Mobile] because it got too stressful. I was doing a bakery business part time as a hobby, but I finally went full force because I saw no way of me being able to work any schedules [T-Mobile] gave us and being able to do virtual schooling with my kids because of how they got it set up.

My fiance, she’s an event manager at the Schoolhouse and there’s been no events, so it’s been pretty rough. She still has a job, but it’s commission. So, with no events, there’s no money.

CP: So how will your kids be attending school in the fall?

CB: They’ll be at home. My grandmother helps me a lot with them, so I couldn’t risk sending them back to school. My grandmother will be 85 in March, and so I couldn’t go with the fact that if I sent them to school that they can go over [to their grandmother’s house]. 

Especially when people have to make a choice between work or staying home with your sick kid, they’re going to choose work, and I just couldn’t have it to where someone has to make a life decision that will affect my kids’ and my grandmother’s life. My grandmother is my rock. So she was the main priority of me picking them to go virtually.

CP: Do you think there’s anything school leaders could have done to make the restart easier for you or for your kids?

CB: I feel like a lot of [leaders], especially here in South Carolina, they treated COVID like a hurricane. It was going to come, do its damages and then go away.

I don’t feel like people really planned it out. I just feel like they could use their time a little bit better to make it an easier transition for everyone. —Sam Spence 

The Tanner Family; Photo by Ruta Smith
Kirstin Tanner

One son, 16, attends Cane Bay High School in Berkeley County,
and a daughter, 12, who attends Westview Middle School.

City Paper: Are they excited about school?

Kirstin Tanner: Most definitely. My son is my cute little nerd and he can’t even hardly sleep, it’s like Christmas is coming. My daughter on the other hand is really like, “Yeah, I don’t know how I’m going to roll out of bed for this.” 

CP: How are they going to be attending school in the fall?

KT: They are going to go back. Originally, I knew my son was going back. He needs that interaction, he needs that face-to-face with his teacher, but originally my daughter did not want to go back. She’s leery of what is to come with everyone that wants to go back to school. We signed her up for blended [classes], but within the last couple of days, she changed her mind and asked if she could return to the classroom. My gut feeling says this needs to be the decision of our children unless it’s a life or death situation … They’re the ones that ultimately know what’s going to help them be successful.

CP: Were you concerned at all when your kids said they wanted to go back in person?

KT: I was because I do have to worry about my mother-in-law, who’s in her 70s, who has diabetes. She does have congestive heart failure, she has COPD. All the signs they tell you to be concerned with — she has them. So, initially I was concerned and wanted to be that mom that put her foot down, and said “We’re doing it all from home.” But then I slept on it, prayed about it, and said, “If this is how the kids feel they’ll succeed the best, we’ll just come up with new rules for how we’ll make it all work.”

CP: What new rules have you had to implement?

KT: When they get home from school, they are going to have to come in through our sunroom. And they’re literally going to have to go straight to the showers. Shoes will be left outside, bookbags will stay in the sunroom and you’ll do your homework out there and it will all stay in the sunroom. My mother-in-law absolutely loves to pick up my middle schooler because it’s another way for her to get out of the house and feel needed. I’m not going to allow that right now. I’m going to be the one that picks up my daughter. I don’t want her to be the one to initially get her right after she’s been in a school full of germs. 

CP: What are you doing in the next few weeks to prepare?

KT: We do have to do the whole back-to-school shopping and I’m not really sure what that’s going to look like yet because I haven’t done any of that, any clothes shopping, since we’ve been in the pandemic. We still have to get school supplies, I’m seriously considering just ordering all of that on Amazon because that’s one way you don’t have to go in the stores. —Heath Ellison 

The King Family; Photo by Ruta Smith

Jennings King

One son, 7, attending school on James Island.

City Paper: How is your son attending school this fall?

Jennings King: We do not know yet. 

CP: How did he handle the classes remotely last year?

JK: I was at home, teaching him. And I am not meant to be a teacher. I’m a wedding photographer and have always worked. I like to be in the business world, not elementary education. So he did well. He’s our only child, so at least I had that going for me. Less things to manage. He and I would get frustrated with each other, we would butt heads. I’m a task- and do-er so I want to get things done. He’s a little boy who’s distracted and looking out the window.

Towards the end, I had my mother-in-law, who is a retired second grade teacher for 35 years, I had her call in and they would FaceTime for his reading assignments. And they would do those every morning at 8 o’clock together, so I had at least some working time. My office is right next to the dining room and I also had my dad call in via FaceTime and he would do some math problems with him over FaceTime.

CP: Will that continue? I guess you don’t know yet.

JK: I do know that if he is learning remotely, I plan on hiring a tutor-slash-babysitter-slash-helper. I do know that. And I just have not found one yet because I don’t even know what to tell her.

CP: That has to come with a pretty expensive price tag.

JK: Yes, for sure. I have no idea what I would be willing to pay.

CP: How has COVID affected your work?

JK: The flipside of all of this is that my husband has been working from home and he is a traveling salesperson. [His company imports] disposables. So they import gloves and masks and anything, paper products, having to do with restaurants. To-go boxes, straws, napkins, anything you throw away, they import. And that has been extremely stressful on him because you just can’t get it. And his customers don’t really understand that.

My job, as a wedding photographer, has also been flipped upside down because all of my spring weddings were moved to late summer and fall, up until December. So the cash flow totally changed.

CP: What do you think the district could have done to make the transition easier?

JK: I just wish they would make a decision. They told us that they would give us 21 days and that’s already passed. I just feel like they’re too afraid to make a decision for fear of backlash, I don’t know. It’s a lot for them to decide on. It’s so much different when you have a private school and you’ve just got the kids in that one school to worry about. I just feel like with public school … it’s hard to make decisions across the board for something that’s so diverse for people. —Sam Spence