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Local families adjust to pandemic closures

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ST. IGNATIUS – Weekdays look different for the McNutt family compared to a few short weeks ago, before Governor Steve Bullock announced that all public schools should close to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Since St. Ignatius schools closed on March 16, the five McNutt children spend their days at home, playing outside and trying to keep up with school work. Dawn McNutt, their mother, said the unexpected cancellation has caused her family a number of challenges, a common experience for people in the Mission Valley these days. When students are unexpectedly home all day, it’s hard for families to adjust. 

“I’m trying to keep my house and my kids as normal as possible,” Dawn said. 

Many families worry that their children will not get the education they need without daily instruction. Dawn doesn’t feel prepared to teach her children, who are in 6th and 8th grade, at home. “I’m afraid my daughters are going to fall back in school,” she said. 

Many schools plan to distribute lessons online, but the McNutt family doesn’t have access to the internet at home, a situation common in the area. McNutt said she hopes her children’s teachers will be able to get them hard copies of learning materials so they can continue their education. 

Schools also provide support for students with special needs, and two of the McNutt children depend on the services they receive. As a person with Autism Spectrum Disorder, the oldest McNutt child needs a regualr schedule, and the unexpected school closure and uncertainty about what the future of the school year will look like has made him “agitated” since the school closed. 

McNutt and her husband are unemployed, so the family relies on supplemental security income to support their family. School meals are an important part of the family’s diet, as they are for many families. Without those meals, many families wouldn’t be able to provide their children the food they need. Fortunately, area schools are continuing to provide meals during the closures. McNutt went to the St. Ignatius school to pick up a week’s worth of meals for her children. 

Since the Covid-19 worldwide pandemic, some people have had trouble purchasing basic food supplies at grocery stores because others have stocked up on groceries and depleted supplies; however, McNutt said she has been able to get all the food items she needs to supplement the school meals at Rod’s Harvest Foods in St. Ignatius. 

Dawn worries about her extended family members who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus outbreak. McNutt’s brother is a long-haul truck driver, and he isn’t able to work because of the virus. 

Caroline Roesch and her family in St. Ignatius are also being impacted by COVID-19. Caroline is a single parent of three whose children. She has health problems that have left her immunocompromised, so she planned to take her kids out of school before the governor ordered cancellations as a precaution. It would be dangerous to her health for them to leave the house and bring the virus home. She said keeping her kids occupied at home has been difficult. 

“I know that my kids are going to get stir crazy and beg to go out, and that’s going to be hard,” she said. Her 11-year-old daughter is especially disappointed to be away from her friends and teachers and has been passing the days talking to her best friend on the phone. 

The child had been looking forward to playing softball this spring. She’d been itching to try out the new gear she got for Christmas. Now the season has been canceled, and she’s devastated. This is a problem many families are facing. Sports and other extracurricular activities have been canceled as part of the effort to promote social distancing. 

Caroline said because she lives on a fixed income, she wasn’t able to stock up food for her family. She’s trying to plan ahead so she’ll only have to go to the store every two weeks to minimize her potential for exposure to the virus. She picked up meals from the school for each of her children at the beginning of the closure. Her 83-year-old father has been bringing groceries to help out. Roesch said she’s worried that he’s at risk for serious illness if he contracts the virus, but he’s decided not to stay at home.

Because her health problems put her at higher risk than most for getting COVID-19, Caroline does worry about what will happen to her family if she gets sick. She said she’s stocked up on cold medicine, but is worried rural hospitals in the area won’t have the capacity to care for everyone who becomes seriously ill. She’s also worried about what would happen to her children if she became seriously ill. Her only family in the area is her dad, who she worries about because his age puts him at risk. 

Caroline worked as a teacher for 12 years. She said she’s been impressed at the school district’s response to the emergency closure. She’s gotten calls from her children’s teachers, who are working to make sure all students have access to distance learning options should school closures continue. 

“We [as educators] care about the whole child,” she said. “It’s no wonder the schools are bending over backward to support families.”

She is trying to use current events to keep her children academically engaged. Her older children are 13 and 16, and they’ve been talking about the literary elements of television shows they watch and paying attention to the stock market change in response to coronavirus and discussing how it will impact the broader economy. 

She’s also been helping her children realize that what’s happening with the pandemic today will become a prominent historical event. “This will be the story they tell their kids,” Caroline said. “They’ll say, ‘Growing up we had this coronavirus, and we couldn’t go to town or play sports.’”

Despite the disruptions, families are trying to keep a sense of normalcy and calm while schools are closed. “I want them to know they’re happy and healthy and realize this isn’t the end of the world,” she said.




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