As the fast-spreading COVID-19 delta variant complicates in-person schooling this fall, especially for younger children, a new study from Indiana University sociologist Jessica Calarco and colleagues examines what happened in fall 2020, when parents faced similar hard choices about remote vs. in-person instruction. With the consequences of remote instruction for children and for schools still an open question, understanding the role of employment in parents’ decisions about pandemic-era schooling is revealing, the researchers say. IU’s Calarco, Max Coleman, and Andrew Halpern-Manners found that in fall 2020, the biggest factor for many families in deciding whether to send a child back to school was whether a parent or other adult was available during the school day to supervise kids. In families where all parents remained employed full-time and did not lose their jobs during the pandemic, most chose in-person instruction, pointing to the challenges of combining remote learning with paid work. Meanwhile, in families with parents who lost jobs, were already stay-at-home parents, or were part-time employed before the pandemic, the majority chose remote instruction or homeschooling, even when they could have sent their children to in-person school. The researchers say having a parent available allowed these families to put safety at the center of their decisions, because it was practical to keep children home full-time. But whether an adult was home has to do with inequality, according to Calarco and her colleagues. Pandemic job losses have disproportionately impacted workers of color, workers without university degrees, and especially women workers in both these groups--which helps explain why families of color and low-income families were disproportionately likely to opt out of in-person school in fall 2020, according to the researchers. Calarco and colleagues also found that parents whose household members were at greater risk of complications from COVID often opted for remote instruction or homeschooling, even if they were working full-time. This doesn’t mean that parents who chose in-person schooling were unconcerned about risks, though. On the contrary, Calarco and her colleagues found that choosing in-person instruction because of work demands created substantial guilt—especially for mothers. No matter what families choose to do this fall, one thing is true, Calarco says -- these are hard decisions, and this will be a tough schooling year. Parents, like everyone, will need a lot of support and flexibility, she says, whether they send their children back to school in person or find a way to keep their children learning at home.
In other news, new research from the IU School of Medicine shows that what seem like minor head injuries, such as from falling, should be taken seriously. Shannon Risacher, an associate professor at IU School of Medicine, and her colleagues found that people who had common head injuries had much higher levels of tau--a protein associated with cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s disease--in their brains. This was especially true in individuals who had a history of head injury with a loss of consciousness. Even in what seem like minor head injuries, Risacher says, the impact on the brain could lead to increased tau and possible effects on future cognition. She adds that the study also highlights the importance for health professionals of asking patients direct and specific questions regarding head injury, which can help to create a more personalized and effective approach to the patient’s care.