I’m really struggling right now. That’s not surprising as I think the great majority of us are struggling right now for multiple reasons. Fear and uncertainty and sorrow and more. All of it adds up to most of us not being at our best. I’m trying to remember that.
One of the most significant challenges we’re all facing is that we know so little about the virus that is driving everything. The more I read, the more questions I have. Medical personal and other experts agree on very little. The virus is so new and the majority of efforts have been focused on healing people. We’ve haven’t had time to understand this virus in order to be sure our behaviors will keep us safe. We are (at least the great majority of us) making choices as best we can with the knowledge we have.
Not everyone has the same freedom to determine how much risk they will take. Many people have had to go to work for the past three months and be around others, facing that risk. People who work at grocery stores, drive public buses, or work in gas stations. There are also many who have lost their jobs. Which also means losing their health insurance.
It is easy for me to think I know what my K-12 school district should do for the fall. All things being equal, I think we should not open. We should not put hundreds of thousands of kids and thousands of teachers and staff in buildings together. All things being equal. That would be the safest choice. At least for everyone’s physical health.
I have two major problems with this.
- Lots of folks will not get paid. If we are solely online our bus drivers and our folks who work in our cafeterias will not have jobs. Or health insurance.
- The mental health of many students (and some adults) is a significant concern. Children who are living in abusive situations are now there all the time, in a situation that is likely even more stressful than the norm, cut off from all external supports. Children in the LGBTQ+ community who are not accepted at home are now unable to live as themselves constantly.
I do not have a good answer for either of those problems. But I am unwilling to completely ignore them. I have been lucky enough to be able to work from home and continue earning a salary. I am lucky enough that my own children are old enough to be independent and allow me to actually work from home. I am lucky enough to live in a large house with lots of space for all of us. I know how lucky I am in this moment. I know that my perspective on what would be ‘best’ for our school system to do is deeply influenced by my situation. I have to hope that those who are making the decisions are seeing a far bigger picture. That they are able to look beyond their privileged situation and consider all the factors in play.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remain virtual in the fall. It just means that if we do, there are lots of other considerations beyond just the physical health of teachers, staff, and students. We need to address those issues as well.
Please, if you are feeling so confident that your K-12 school system should remain virtual (or your institution of higher education for that matter) this fall, consider that you may not know all that is involved in that decision. It doesn’t mean you are wrong. It just means it isn’t as easy as we’d like to think it is.
And I haven’t even begun to address issues of equity or academics…
Finally, if you’re speaking forcefully about how schools should remain closed but you’re heading out and eating at restaurants, going to the mall, or having playdates for your kid, you are being a hypocrite. Either it is too dangerous for people to be together and we should keep things closed or not. Plus, if you want restaurants, malls, stores, and things to be open, someone has to be working there. What are their young children doing while they’re at work so we can go and shop? It’s complicated. Please don’t pretend the answers are obvious.