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My Son, Cheating?! The Confusing Rules of Online Schooling

I sighed and rolled my eyes as I I dialed my friend’s phone number and waited for her to answer. I was about to have an uncomfortable conversation with her, one that I never dreamed I’d have to have with the friend who has been with me through 10 years of parenting. Her son is my teen son’s best friend and, with six kids between us, we’ve navigated everything from first sleepaway camp nights to first dates and everything in between.

But this situation was a new one, even for us.

Social distancing in the wake of COVID-19 has made everything a challenge, including online learning.

As our teens adjusted to their new normal of Zoom classes and electronic assignments, I patted myself on the back. “We’ve got this!” I thought to myself more than once as I watched them complete their assignments.

And, while I’ve made sure both kids are checking in once a day as required, I gave little thought to how and when assignments, or in this case, tests, were executed.

I probably should have thought this through a little, but this is my first pandemic. I’m still learning how to be the headmistress of our sudden one room schoolhouse.

Which is exactly how I couched my uncomfortable conversation with my friend after we exchanged, “How are you holding up during this global crisis?” pleasantries.

“So, I genuinely don’t know how to say this or what to do about it so I’m just going to come out and say it,” I started. “Where do we draw the line on group work and cheating? Because I’m pretty sure our sons just cheated on a test together. And I know this because they did it right in front of me this afternoon,” I blurted.

After a second of silence, my friend started to laugh and so did I.

Because seriously, when we met each other back when our kids were in first grade, I am certain of the fact that I did not see a cheating scandal in our future, much less one in my own home during a pandemic.

As we talked, I gave her the rundown: the boys are in the same class and the assignment was to take an online test by a certain time. Though some teachers have given permission for “open book” style testing, this particular teacher had made no such distinction. My son and his friend FaceTimed each other and opened the test link. The test itself was randomized so they were not taking the exact test at the same time but the intent to “work together” was still there.

And that’s when I happened to walk into my son’s room to drop off some folded laundry.

“Hey guys! How’s it going?” I peered at the screen to see my son’s friend in a familiar hoodie, grinning back at me.

“All good, Mah. We’re just taking a test here,” said my son, so casually that I thought he was kidding.

When I questioned the boys, they came clean immediately, but not in a “Whoops, we got caught” kind of way. They simply shrugged their shoulders and told me what they were doing to complete their work for the day.

Because my son’s friend is like one of my own kids, I took the opportunity to discuss their feelings about integrity and how to maintain a good digital citizen reputation, even in the absence of detention and consequences at a brick and mortar school. Though both of them rolled their eyes at me and gave me the standard, “But, come on! Everyone cheats!” party line, I could see that I had struck a nerve with both of them.

I shut down their operation, at least until I could discuss with my husband and my friend what our rules would be going forward.

That’s been an unexpected issue with pandemic schooling: we are literally making the rules up as we go along.

Some days, we find ourselves helping our teen take pictures of the elaborate dinner she has to cook for her Foods class and other days, we find ourselves dismantling a cheating scandal in our son’s bedroom.

Thankfully, my friend was on the same page as I was: as the co-headmistress of our now seemingly joint online school district, she agreed that rules and parameters needed to be spelled out.

We hashed out some new district rules, including the fact that parallel test taking was now no longer permitted. Studying together and working on tests that have been deemed “open book”? Great, fine. Work together to your heart’s content.

But, as I explained to my son later that night, integrity is what you do when no one is watching and never is that truer than in the midst of this online learning experience.

Our son has always been forthright and honest and, in this case, he genuinely didn’t see his actions as suspect until we’d discussed the situation in more detail. He’s accepted our new district ruling and recognized that he still needs to come by his grades honestly.

He’s also probably realizing that nothing will get by the two new headmistresses at his school.

Sorry, not sorry, boys. We’re professional pandemic educators now.

Christine Burke started the popular parenting blog, Keeper of The Fruit Loops six years ago on a whim. Since then, her work has been featured on the Today Show, Scary Mommy, Grown and Flown and other parenting websites. In her spare time, she runs marathons, collects thrift shop finds and eats ice cream like it’s her job.

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