Alabama families are dealing with a host of compounding issues as they adjust to remote learning, including working from home while homeschooling children and protecting the family – and their finances – from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Parent Assistance Line, a free service funded by the Alabama Department of Child Abuse Neglect Prevention and the Department of Human Resources, has been a listening ear for those who are parenting during a pandemic. The 13-year-old hotline, stationed at the University of Alabama’s Child Development Resource Center, has received a 73% increase in calls in March and April compared to the average 40 calls in the other months.

Executive Director April Kendrick said conversations that were usually about potty training toddlers and handling teen rebellion have morphed into questions about where parents can find resources.

“We are getting more, ‘How do I find support for helping them with homework? How do I find some resources for food? How do I find ways to connect them with their friends? How do I help him through this?” Kendrick said.

The stress can be amplified for parents of younger students or special-needs students with an individualized educational program, also known as IEPs, which details the instructions, resources and support systems a child needs to thrive.

Mountain Brook Schools parent Kim Fasking is considering shedding some educational activities for her eighth-grade son, who is grappling with the challenges of remote learning more than her fourth and 10th-grade daughters. Her son has an IEP due to his learning disability. After going over his educational expectations with his case worker, Fasking said even she became overwhelmed with his workload.

“He’s used to getting a lot of help at school, and I am not on the same level as his people at school are. I’m also not as attentive because I have my own work and two other kids,” Fasking said.

Fasking worked with her son to manage his workload during the second week of remote learning. They wrote down his assignments and class meetings on a calendar. They set multiple alarms on his phone. But where Fasking saw organization, her son saw a list of assignments stuffed into tiny squares.

Fasking’s son texted her a post he saw online that echoed his emotions about remote learning at the time.

The post said, “When you’re trying to do online school work at home but you can’t because you are in a home environment and not a school environment and the vibes are off and you’re crying and shaking because the due date is coming up and you’re just sitting there with unfinished work even though the assignment is so easy but it’s so hard because you were born wrong and dark inside.”

Concern seeped into Fasking’s heart as she texted her son back to just do his best. Nothing else mattered.

“When he texted that to me, I was like, ‘Oh, god,’” Fasking said. “We just need to really take a step back, and just recognize this as a brief moment in time. What he is going to be doing during these last six weeks is not going to make and break him. It’s not going to be the defining moment of his life.”

Fasking said they are going through his schedule to lighten his workload.

“We just have to decide which things we are going to allow to be important to us and which things we are going to decide to allow to cut lose and just not worry about,” she said. “His mental health, my mental health and the mental health of this family are more important than this particular assignment.”

Kendrick encourages parents to set realistic expectations with their children and themselves. Perfectionism during a pandemic can make adults feel like they are being ineffective in their roles as both parents and homeschool teachers. It’s OK if parents aren’t able to get all the tasks done in a day, Kendrick said.

“Sometimes, it’s enough to get to the end of the day alive, and to know your children are alive, and that they are safe and well. Then start again tomorrow,” Kendrick said.

Nationwide educators are worried students aren’t logging into online classwork because they don’t have the resources needed to make the move to online instruction. According to the Alabama State Department of Education, 52 percent of the state’s 722,000 students were considered economically disadvantaged last school year.

According to a Pew Research survey, lower income parents expressed more concern about their children falling behind than higher-income parents. About 64 percent of those surveyed expressed some concern about children falling behind in school.

Jeanean Simon, a Bessemer City Schools parent, is worried some kids are missing out on instruction. She said less than 10 students did an assignment for one of her son’s teachers. The teacher messaged the parents and the students to ask if they have heard from students who haven’t completed the assignment.

“She listed the names of about 10 or 12 other kids and she said, ‘Hey, kids and parents, if you know someone who is not getting these messages, let them know. We all need to work together,’” she said. “We have to figure out a way to make sure these kids are getting these assignments because if you are relying on the parent to tell them, well, how many kids don’t have that parent? How many other kids are not getting that information?”

Simon said she has had trouble getting some assignments for one of her sixth-grade sons, Isaac. During the first two weeks of online learning, Simon couldn’t log her son into Goggle Classroom. It wasn’t until Friday, the end of their second week of remote learning, that she was able to get Google Classroom to work for all five of Issac’s classes.

Issac was able to find and complete assignments from his reading, English and science teachers, who utilized other online, educational platforms. But Issac’s math and social studies teacher only used Google Classroom, which made it harder for Issac to access assignments, Simon said.

“I was trying to make sure wasn’t behind,” Simon said. “If they were posting most of their stuff on Goggle Classroom, we weren’t getting it, and that was putting him further behind.”

Simon emailed the math and social studies teachers but she didn’t hear back from the math teacher until Thursday and the social studies teacher until Friday. Issac missed two social studies activities as his mother tried to figure out the technical difficulties. Simon said her son was given a grace period for one of the activities and partial credit for the other one.

Remote learning has been a smoother transition for Issac’s twin brother Isaiah, who has an IEP due to his dyslexia. While Isaiah has used online platforms for assistance many times before, Simon said online learning is a new field for Issac and thus he doesn’t have the technical expertise.

“I asked (Issac), ‘Have you used Goggle classroom at school?’ and he said, ‘No, we used it one time to do one thing and that was it,” Simon said. “I feel like kids who haven’t’ done a lot of remote learning, it has been a struggle because they aren’t used to getting online and doing things online.”

Before Morgan County Schools started its remote learning plan, Priceville mother of three Krystal Ness spent a few weeks transforming her kitchen into a makeshift classroom. A desk area that once stored kitchen items is now filled with workbooks, crayons, pencils and folders. A whiteboard details their routine for the day from 8 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Ness handles her full-time job as an engineer from the kitchen table as her two Priceville Elementary School children work from their laptops across from her. When she has to make calls, her 19-month-old daughter plays in the den behind her during video conferencing calls.

The organization didn’t come naturally, Ness said. After her children’s school district decided to close, she got frustrated at herself because her children didn’t have a routine at first. Feeling helpless, she texted her sister, who homeschools her children in Connecticut.

“I was just freaking out with her like, ‘I don’t know how to do this. The kids are needing things from me constantly. It just seems like they are bored, and I don’t know how to help them and I also need to get work done.”

Ness’ sister came to the rescue with a long list of fun activities for the kids to try, like nature journals. Soon after, the school started giving parents daily education exercises, such as Lego challenges. By the time remote learning started for Morgan County Schools on Monday, Ness was able to slip her kids’ schooling into their schedule with ease.

But even a sturdy routine didn’t immune the family to some challenges. While her fourth-grade daughter can work her way around a computer, Ness’ kindergarten son needs more assistance. She spent an hour on Wednesday helping her son at time when she should have been making teleconference calls.

“My kindergartner doesn’t know how to use a laptop or a computer,” Ness said. “So, I have to get logged in for him and I have to pull out the materials from his folder. So, it has been a little bit of a challenge.”

Whenever the environment becomes too overwhelming, Ness dismantles her frustration by tapping into her network of friends and teachers who are facing similar challenges and reminding herself about her children’s wellbeing.

“If our routine kind of gets off and I am frustrated, I just kind of throw it out the window for the day,” Ness said. “If they are happy and healthy, and I’m not stressed, that’s probably better than trying to force some kind of schedule or some kind of learning that I am not as equipped as a teacher to do.”

The switch to online learning was sudden for most teachers. Teachers were hoping to welcome kids back to their classrooms at the beginning of April. But that changed due to a March 26 court order from Gov. Kay Ivey to keep school campuses close, causing school districts to create remote learning plans.

Alabama children depend on public schools for meals. As many school systems decide to cease meals, the responsibility then shifts to food banks, which are reaching capacity. Some school systems, like Birmingham City Schools and Jefferson County Schools, were able to restart feeding programs by creating community partnerships. It took legal action for Leeds City Schools to restart its meal program.

Simon isn’t in desperate need for food, but she is looking for ways to cut costs. Earlier this year, Simon took out a loan to pay for her deductible for a surgery. But now, she is not getting her full pay wage.

Simon wasn’t given the option to work from home. As an employee of the Piggly Wiggly Alabama Distribution Company, a warehouse in Bessemer, she was considered essential. She had to take time off through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which requires certain employers to offer paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for certain COVID-19-related reasons, including taking care of children due to school closures. Simon qualified to receive two-thirds of her regular pay rate.

“That equals out to about $10 and some change. Which is not a lot,” Simon said. “There are a lot of people who are doing that. There was another person on my job who took FMLA so she could stay home with her grandkids because her daughter was considered an essential employee.”

Simon said she pushes her feelings about her finances to the back of her mind as she tries to keep her sons on a normal school schedule. They are used to running around, she said. The boys had their first baseball game of the season before COVID-19 arrived.

Ness’ is also trying to create some type of normalcy with her fourth-grade daughter who didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to her friends at school. Since Priceville Junior High starts in the fifth grade, that means her daughter will be a in different building next school year. It doesn’t look like her daughter will get to celebrate her birthday on the 26th.

So, Ness is training herself to give her kids more grace when they feel sad.

“It must be hard as a kid to have your whole world and routine totally adjusted for you from one day to the next,” Ness said “It was like, go to school one day. Then the next day, you’re not in school for the rest of the school year.”

“I try to realize I’m not the only one that’s gets frustrated. Everybody does. Even the little kids,” she continued. “So, I try to adjust my schedule and adjust my reactions to the kids. We are all trying to get through it together.”