Last month, we wrote a general blog containing tips for co-parents over the holidays. However, it's safe to say that the 2020-2021 school year is unprecedented, especially for children in states heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, we're taking a more in-depth look at how schools are handling breaks which include Spring Break this year, as well as what you can do with your co-parent to ensure your child has a good time while on break from school.
At Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers, our veteran child custody advocates will work with you to secure your parental rights and obtain or modify a child custody order.
Contact us online or via phone at (940) 293-2313 to learn more.
How Are Schools Handling COVID-19?
Even as deep as we are into the school year and how things continue to evolve with the COVID-19 pandemic, parents are still faced with the questions of "how will my child's school handle COVID-19”and "how will my child’s school handle spring break this year if there is an outbreak”. This is amongst many other question's parents face during this unprecedented time.
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer for parents. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) and politicians like Governor Greg Abbott have largely allowed school districts to handle their own COVID-19 response. This means that a school’s approach to the pandemic varies on a district-by-district and sometimes even school-by-school basis. The ability to offer virtual learning for students also varies by school to school.
Within the first few weeks of the start of the school year, more than 4,500 students and staff had contracted the COVID-19 virus. Early on in the year, many districts started requiring parents to bring their children to school for in-person learning and did not allow virtual learning. This created a significant conflict between school districts and parents who wanted to continue remote learning for their children for safety reasons. This also created difficulty for teachers in knowing how to prepare for lessons and their students.
In response to the initial rise in COVID cases, many schools returned to remote learning. For example, in the Fall, Dallas ISD (one of the largest school districts in Texas) opted to close its doors to in-person classes when COVID-19 numbers reached red levels. Many schools in the North Texas area also opted for virtual learning earlier and extended Christmas break for safety reasons. TEA professionals have proposed numerous to handle this school year and next. One of the proposals is to make the year longer to give students more time to social distance.
Many educators, students and parents would agree that school protocols change on a daily basis. If you live in Texas, it is recommended to look at the website as well as social media page for your school district. These resources will have the information for how your district is currently handling education amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why Is the 2020-21 School Year Difficult for Co-Parents?
For parents engaged in custody arrangements, the 2020 through 2021 school year has been particularly fraught with difficulty and change.
Finding a Place to Exchange Your Child is Challenging
One primary issue for many co-parents is that the school is the designated location in their Custody Order to exchange the child. However, when schools are closed, it may be difficult or impossible for parents to actually exchange custody at school. Many parents also find it difficult to exchange at the residence of the other parent.
Your custody exchange location is specified in your Custody Order. If your school is frequently shut down or your child is unable to attend due to close contact with an infected person, and you and the other co-parent cannot agree on an updated exchange location you may want to consider filing a custody modification case to address these issues.
Figuring Out Custody Schedules Can Be More Difficult
In our earlier blog about parenting over the school breaks, we covered common custody splits for the holidays and breaks. For example, Christmas is split in half for most parents and Thanksgiving is alternated by an even/odd year.
However, this year, things have been different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In districts where schools are closed or the children are engaged in remote or hybrid learning, kids are not at home for a week or two—they will be home for almost the entirety of holiday and school break(s). This is due to travel restrictions, restaurant restrictions, amongst several others. Further, if one family member has to quarantine due to symptoms or a positive test, they are confined to their home.
This can present a problem for parents who work full-time and who do not feel comfortable leaving their child at home alone or self-supervised while the parent works in a different room. Parents may need to figure out how to utilize a childcare facility or possibly a nanny consistently. If childcare is not an option, parents may need to look into other sources of childcare, such as asking a family member to look after the kids or even changing their work hours, if possible.
Any time custody arrangements need to be modified significantly, it presents a problem to co-parents, especially those who are not on the best terms. If you have not done so yet, it is imperative to talk to your employer about your child’s schedule and a possible modification of your hours or possibly your custody arrangement with the child’s other parent. This is particularly crucial if you or your co-parent has a job where the schedule often changes seasonally.
If one parent usually gets custody during a particular school break because the other is a seasonal worker, that may not work out this year when children are at home more often. Discussing your work schedule in advance can help you get a better handle on how to share custody throughout the holidays effectively.
Finances May Be Tighter
Tens of millions of Americans have been hit hard financially by COVID-19. A significant number of Americans already have anxiety about spending money as the pandemic continues its stronghold on all aspects of the economy.
It may be uncomfortable, but you should be in touch with your co-parent about how your finances are looking. As we mentioned in our other blog, you may want to consider pooling resources for a gift, trip, or activity your child wants. Understanding where your finances are at also gives you some valuable time to sit down with your child and discuss monetary expectations. It may also allow you to collaborate and develop an alternative for what you have traditionally done, such as taking your child somewhere on a camping trip or fun location next year when it's a bit easier financially.
Being on the Same Page About Safety Is Vital
Last, but surely not least, you should try and ensure that you and your co-parent are on the same page regarding safety for your child during the pandemic.
Spring and other school breaks are a time for children to play with friends and do activities that involve other people, such as going sledding, skiing, visiting large amusement parks, staying at resort locations, or participating in activities with extended family members. However, not every parent will be comfortable with potlucks, parties, activities mentioned above or other activities that extend beyond immediate family members during the era of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you disagree with your co-parent on how to handle safety, attempt to compromise with them if possible and create an arrangement both parties feel comfortable with. If you cannot compromise with them and believe their actions may put your child at risk, you can file a suit to modify your case as long as you meet the required grounds. It is important to meet with one of our attorneys to discuss your case and concerns. The earlier you meet with an attorney the better it is for your case as one of our attorneys can tell you how to best prepare for a modification case.
At Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers, our attorneys understand how difficult it can be to co-parent over the school breaks.
If you're engaging in a child custody order or already have one that is no longer working out, we can help you pursue your case and help you file for a modification.
To schedule a consultation with our team, contact us online or via phone at (940) 293-2313.