Help, I’m Homeschooling, or Schooling at Home! (Part 2)

Who would have guessed that when schools shut down this past March, they would be shut for the remainder of the school year? Fast forward several months, and most are not re-opening in-person this fall.  Administrators and teachers are doing their best to provide a safe and nurturing environment for the children amidst a pandemic which will keep most students learning remotely. But what about parents? Other than maintaining a sense of humor, what are some of the considerations as the new school year begins? 

For most families, this means schooling at home. The children remain enrolled at their current school.  Parents are receiving guidance from their county district, school, and teachers. Students receive materials and take lessons online with their teachers.

Are you homeschooling? Technically, no. Your child’s school or district is responsible for providing the curricula, teaching, and record keeping. Most Maryland school districts are still providing meals for eligible students, and devices for children who need them. 

One of the most challenging aspects for many families is space for each child to attend class and complete assignments. It is helpful for each child to have a designated “school space.” It does not need to be set up like a classroom, and it might have to be transitioned into the meal room in the evening, but having a special space, equipped with necessary supplies, will help your child maintain focus and a sense of normalcy. A private area might be unachievable, but a simple partition made of three taped file folders could create a similar feel. There are many other tips on time and family management as well as emotional wellbeing in my earlier article.

However, one of the greatest needs right now is grace – for yourself, for your children, and for your children’s teachers and school. COVID has added unanticipated challenges requiring adaptation from all.   

What is homeschooling then and how is it different? Homeschooling means the child has been unenrolled from school.  Many parents are making the choice to homeschool their children, but there are many important factors to consider:

  • Notification – Families must notify their child’s school at least 15 days before switching to homeschooling.
  • Responsibility – According to Maryland law, parents must “provide regular, thorough instruction in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age.” This does not mean you need to use the same materials. There are myriad curricula options for purchase.
  • Finances – Switching to homeschooling means the family becomes responsible for all costs, including books and materials, software, and more. Usually, children can no longer participate in school activities or receive school related services such as lunch services. 
  • Organization – Families must maintain a portfolio of their child’s work, submit to an annual review by either the school system or an approved homeschool umbrella program, record grades, and issue graduation diplomas. 

What steps should families take who are considering the option of homeschooling? 

  1. First is to read the code of Maryland as it pertains to homeschooling. It is not long, and it describes the state’s and the parent’s responsibilities.
  2. Second is to research the pros and cons.  A helpful resource is the Maryland Homeschool Association (MDHSA).
  3. Finally, connect with experienced families. They can answer questions about curriculum, socialization, and much more.  MDHSA provides a listing of local groups and resources. 

Indoor Air Quality and COVID

We have all had to learn new things — social distancing, face covering protocols, staying at home — during this pandemic and the research and health community is no exception. In fact, they are continually discovering novel things about COVID and how to protect public health.

Transmission of the COVID virus is thought to be mainly from person-to-person contact through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing, and talking which enter the lungs. The six-foot social distancing that we are all familiar with has been a mainstay precautionary practice to reduce the spread of the virus. However, new research shows that the six-foot distance may actually not be adequate to prevent exposure in indoor settings.

Numerous studies show that microdroplets (essentially aerosols) can stay suspended in the air much longer than previously thought, travel more than six feet, and circulate in rooms. The new research suggests that wearing facemasks in public buildings, offices, etc. maybe a prudent precaution. Further, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can move and recirculate these microdroplets (~ 1 micron in size), and therefore filtration is recommended. Filtration will not eliminate all risk of transmission of airborne particulates, since several other factors influence disease transmission, but is one tool in addition to facemasks and handwashing to reduce risk.

CDC, EPA and ASHRAE provides some practical guidelines to management of indoor air quality: 

  • Using a minimum of a 13 Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) HVAC filter. This level can capture up to 85% of particles 1-3 microns in size. These filters are the pleated kind and can be purchased online or at some hardware/box stores, (though often they only sell MERV 12 or lower). Note: These filters reduce air flow slightly and must be replaced every three months to make sure they don’t get clogged to where air flow is restricted possibly damaging the system
  • Maintain the fan component of the HVAC system to run 24/7. Most thermostats allow for that option. Simply turn the fan from auto to on
  • If weather and temperature conditions permit consider increasing fresh airflow from outside
  • Consider using a portable room air cleaner a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) room filter or. This may be especially a wise practice if someone has been sick. A HEPA filter (equivalent to > MERV 16) will provide up to 99% capture of the virus droplets.

Being safe during this pandemic has adjusted our lifestyle and practices, and we need to remain diligent and adaptable to minimize risks. Indoor air quality is yet another important consideration to protect your health.

Coronavirus Scams Targeting Older Americans

Scammers are taking advantage of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to con and scam people into giving up their money. During this time, people 65 and older aren’t interacting with as many friends, neighbors, or senior service providers due to efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19, making it harder to prevent scams. Knowing about possible scams is a good first step toward preventing them.  

Here are a few coronavirus-specific scams to look out for:

Computer hacker and cyber crime

COVID-19 Vaccine, Cure, Air Filter, Testing Scams

The Federal Trade Commission warned the public about an increase in the number of scams related to vaccines, test kits, cures, treatments, and air filter systems designed to remove COVID-19 from the air in your home. There is no vaccine for this virus, and there is no cure.  Testing is available through your local and state governments, but these tests are not delivered to your house. If you receive a phone call, email, text message, or letter with claims to sell you any of these items, it’s a scam. 

Fake Charity Scams

A charity scam is when a thief poses as a real charity or makes up the name of a charity that sounds real to get money from you.  Be careful about any charity calling you asking for donations. Do your research by visiting the website of the organization of your choice to make sure your money is going to the right place. 

“Person In Need” Scams

Elderly woman getting bad newsScammers could use the circumstances of the coronavirus to pose as a grandchild, relative, or friend who claims to be ill, stranded in another state or foreign country, or otherwise in trouble, and ask you to send money. They may ask you to send cash by mail or buy gift cards. These scammers beg you to keep it a secret and act fast before you ask questions. Take a deep breath and get the facts. Don’t send money unless you’re sure it’s the real person who contacted you.  Hang up and call your grandchild or friend’s phone number to see if the story is real.  

Social Security Benefits Scams

While local Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are closed to the public due to COVID-19 concerns, SSA will not suspend or decrease Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments due to the current pandemic. Scammers may mislead people into believing they need to provide personal information or pay by gift card, wire transfer, internet currency, or by mailing cash to maintain regular benefit payments during this period.  

Bottom Line

Say NO if anyone contacts you and asks for your specific and private information by phone, in person, by text message, or email. Report scams to www.ftc.gov/complaint. The Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, can connect older adults and their families to services, call 1-800-677-1116.

The New Reality of Grocery Shopping

Remember when grocery shopping was a boring chore and you couldn’t wait to leave the store? Actually, I enjoy strolling the aisles, searching for sales and new products, but grocery store shopping has changed. People still can’t wait to leave the stores, but for different reasons. Due to new government policies we are required to wear masks and there are limits to the amount of people in the store at a given time. Many feel anxious and wonder if it’s safe to shop or if they could potentially contract the virus from food they buy.  

Woman hoarding food during coronavirus pandemicAccording to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is currently no evidence that coronavirus can be transferred through food. Read more about how the virus is transmitted at the CDC

Grocery stores are also taking safety precautions. Many provide hand sanitizers at the door (I recommend using them when you enter and leave the store), disinfect their carts and other frequently touched surfaces, limit the number of people in the store at one time and mark floors to encourage social distancing. 

In-Store Shopping

The biggest risk in grocery stores is coming into close contact with another person who’s sick. Following these tips to reduce your risk. 

  • Wear a mask. Covering your nose and mouth decreases the risk of getting the virus. Don’t have one? Use a scarf or check out the Good Housekeeping video to learn how to make one using a bandana and coffee filter. 
  • Avoid crowds. Shopping weekdays in the late afternoons and evenings seem to be less crowded than weekends. Many stores are opening their doors early for elderly people only, so check store hours before heading out.
  • Social Distance. Stay at least 6 feet from other people at all times. Don’t be afraid to ask others to step back if they are too close to you in line.
  • Make a list before you go. This minimizes time spent in the store.

image-from-rawpixel-id-2327676-jpegOnline Shopping

Demand for online grocery deliveries is high and could take a week or more to get your delivery. Here are some tips that can help you get groceries delivered at your doorstep. 

  • Explore store options. Big companies like Amazon and Walmart offer grocery delivery, however check if smaller grocers or corners stores in your area also deliver. Wait time may be less.
  • Try the Instacart App. This app lets you shop from local grocery stores online, then sends a “personal shopper” to shop and deliver your order.
  • Can’t get a delivery slot? Load up your cart and keep refreshing your browser until one becomes available. Also try shopping at midnight when more time slots for delivery open up.
  • Delivery Services. Check if Nextdoor, a local social networking service is available in your neighborhood. Many people shop for their neighbors who can’t easily get to the store. Local Rotary Clubs may also offer free food and delivery for populations who have difficulty getting out. 
  • Contactless delivery. Regardless of who delivers, you can eliminate contact with one more person by asking them to leave the groceries outside your door. 

Panic-buying toilet paper during coronavirus epidemicA final lighthearted thought. People have been stockpiling the elusive toilet paper since this health crisis began. But how much do we really need? Use this Toilet Paper Calculator to determine your average daily usage. You may discover you need less than you thought.

Be well!

Resources for Personal Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Risk Management Solution Crisis Identity Planning ConceptIt was March 12 when we found out that offices were closed, and the following day that schools would be closed in our state.  At that time, it was supposed to be for a two-week period, but now we have moved beyond that. While many are still working, others are laid off or furloughed. Even if you are still working, you may experience fluctuations in your income or even unexpected bills. Since the beginning, I have been keeping a list of resources shared by my friends and colleagues during this difficult time. 

Now is the time to share them with you.

Several government agencies have pulled together resources for consumers. The list is not comprehensive and focuses primarily on finance related topics. An important note is that the federal tax filing deadline is extended from April 15 until July 15. Now if you are expecting a refund, you probably should not wait to file your taxes. You should also check the filing requirements for your state. Maryland residents have a filing date of July 15.  Click on the links below for government resources in response to COVID-19.

Cooperative Extension has responded with resources available for food preservation, nutrition, mindfulness, and finance. Most of the links provided will focus on finances, as that is the role I serve with Extension. The most important item to remember is that you need a plan. Figure out your current situation and develop a plan in case your situation changes. Always seek credible resources for information. There are people out there that are trying to take advantage of you in this challenging environment. The Cooperative Extension resources listed below are credible. You should also check the Extension resources available in your state.

I am a member of the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (NEAFCS).  The organization has pulled together a list of resources around emergency preparedness, cleaning, hand washing, and food safety, family resources, and financial wellness resources.  Click here for its COVID-19 resources.

Some parents are looking for free resources to teach your children at home. 

Colleagues have sent me other resources as pdf files.  If you are interested in them, please email me at jketterm@umd.edu.

It is important to keep in mind that this situation is temporary. Stay positive as this will pass. During difficult times, you need to take care of your mental and physical well-being. Take time to unplug and stop reading all of the negative coverage.  

Stay healthy.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) — Protect Your Health and Find Help for Financial Stress

Questions about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) continue to swirl through daily updates and new information. How do I stay healthy? How can I afford to be sick? What happens if I lose my income? How do I protect myself and my family?

coping-with-stressStress is often the result of uncertainty. Because stress alone can make us sick or more susceptible to disease, it is important to take steps to reduce uncertainty by staying informed and planning ahead when possible.

How can I stay healthy? Most importantly, get answers and information from a reputable source. Helpful suggestions can be found from the CDC, The World Health Organization, and your state or local health department. All provide instructions for simple preventative precautions that you can take to reduce the likelihood of getting sick:

  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes.
  • Keep a distance of three feet from others whenever possible.
  • Stay home from work or other activities if you are sick.

Coping with financial stress

Can I afford to get sick? The new virus strain might be scary, causing worry about paying for the virus testing and hospital bills. Staying home from work might mean a missed paycheck, or even a lost job.

There is help. Many insurance providers are covering the cost of the test as well as waiving co-payments. Check with your own insurance company for details. If you’re on Medicare, Medicare Part B covers coronavirus (COVID-19) testing. This test is covered when your doctor or other health care provider orders it.

Important: Call your health care provider first before seeking the test.  A referral is required, and testing is not appropriate in all cases. Do you live in Maryland and do not have health insurance? There’s a checkbox on the MD income tax form to notify the Maryland Health Connection if you don’t have health insurance. Anyone deemed eligible will be mailed a letter allowing them to sign up for health insurance within 35 days under special enrollment.

What about loss of income? Employer response varies widely — some are offering paid or partial paid leave, some are not or simply can’t. Discuss concerns with your employer. Are you self-employed?  Proposed federal legislation offers relief.

How can I meet my obligations and expenses? Policies are quickly being implemented to specifically meet coronavirus related needs.

helping-children-cope-with-stress-printIn Maryland:

  • Eviction is temporarily prohibited for any coronavirus-related delay in rent payment.
  • Shutoffs and late fees are currently suspended.
  • Meals for children. There are over 100 locations across the state to provide three meals and a snack to children impacted by school closings.
  • Mortgage, student loan, and other debts. Talk directly with your lender for updates on terms. There is proposed legislation to provide debt relief for student loan and other borrowers.
  • Help with basic needs. Start with your local Community Action Agency.

How do I plan ahead for events like this? The biggest concern now is to stay healthy. However, when the crisis is over, there are steps you can take to reduce financial stress in the future.

  1. Have an emergency fund just for loss income. Start saving with small steps. If you can save one hour of pay each week for a year, you will have more than a full week’s pay saved.
  2. Evaluate your health insurance plan each year during open enrollment to make sure the plan you have is your best choice. Resources for this can be found here, especially on pages 13-18.
  3. Know your health insurance deductible and estimate your annual health care costs so they can be included in your spending plan.

It is very important to receive information about the coronavirus and financial help from reliable sources.  A few are listed below:

Protecting Your Health

Coronavirus information from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Coronavirus information Maryland Department of Health (MDH) 

Tests for the coronavirus-Frequently asked questions from the Maryland Department of Health

Updated information from the Maryland Governor’s Office

Stopping the spread of Coronavirus (available in English, Spanish, and Chinese)

Symptoms of Coronavirus(available in English, Spanish, and Chinese)

Coping with Stress

World Health Organization (WHO), coping with stress during the coronavirus outbreak

World Health Organization (WHO), helping children cope with stress during the coronavirus outbreak

Coping with Financial Stress

National Extension’s Financial Security for All