Like many kids across the country, mine will go back to school through a hybrid of in-person and online learning. As of now, there will be two groups of kids in each of the schools. One group will be in school on Monday and Tuesday, the other group will attend on Thursday and Friday. No student is in the school on Wednesday. This is to cut the class sizes in half as well as the overall number of people in the building on any given day.
None of this is ideal for most students and their caregivers. However, I am trying to be flexible. My focus is on balancing the needs of my family while also keeping in mind what’s best for the teachers, other families, and my community because what we do impacts others. My family also needs others to share this sentiment. Without actively looking out for one another, COVID will keep spreading. The longer there is an attitude of “just do what works for you,” the longer we will be navigating this pandemic — because what works for one, or some, doesn’t work for all.
Since we don’t have a competent leader who is capable of leading our country through a crisis, perhaps we’d be better off if the attitude shifted to this is what we need to do and this is what we can do to help others. Being okay with just focusing on ourselves is what continues to divide our country while the death count rises. Yet, some are forced to think independently because they aren’t getting the assistance needed to find financial security. Folks put themselves and others at risk because the risk of losing basic necessities is too high and too real. We don’t have a collective plan that asks folks (who are able) to embrace sacrifice and an examination of privilege. Not lavish lifestyle privilege—though that is present too—but in the privilege to make adjustments that may feel uncomfortable but aren’t a threat to overall wellbeing.
I want and need for my kids to go back to school. All of our mental health depends on it. They need the benefit of teachers, structure, and relationships. I need to work. We all need to return to a new version of normal. And within those needs is a desire to rush and a temptation to act carelessly when it’s still not safe to let our guard down. But the pandemic is not over. Even in what we need, the most important aspect is our physical health and protecting the health of others.
Since March we’ve had limited contact with friends, have eliminated most extracurricular events, and have severely adjusted the way we manage everyday life. If we can’t social distance or interact with someone within our small circles of friends who are doing the same, we don’t do it. Schools closing in March signaled the start of the effects of the pandemic; the beginning of a new school year has not magically ended it or reduced the risk of COVID-19.
In case you don’t believe that adding more people to a school building or classroom will increase the risk of contracting the virus, there is a fun COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning from Georgia Tech that shows the risk of encountering at least one person positive with COVID-19 based on the size of the event. Each county in every state is documented and you can adjust the number of people at each event to watch the risk increase. Consider your child’s school day an event. As much as you think you are in a controlled environment, every family can — and will — act independently outside of the classroom and bring their choices to school.
Politics, ignorance, and conspiracy theories aside, the socioeconomic disparities alone in this country have forced folks to handle the pandemic and back to school in very different ways. Some parents are homeschooling. Some are forming pods. Some are hiring tutors. Some are opting for full-time online learning offered through their school. Some are sending their kids back to the classroom full-time or part-time like I am. Kids are going to be left behind while others continue to widen their lead. Kids are going to be put at risk because parents are either too entitled or too desperate. It’s a mess.
Hearing folks say they are doing what works for them feels like a slap in the face at times. It reeks of making choices they feel good about. To me, it says they had the ability to make decisions that made lemonade out of lemons. Lemonade is tasty! I want lemonade. Or it tells me they are doing what they want when they want because they can’t be bothered with guidelines, restrictions, or cramps in their lifestyle. These folks keep adding lemons to the mix, but many don’t have what they need to turn lemons into anything else. Everything we do has an impact—either positive or negative—on someone. And that includes the decisions we make when it comes to going back to school.
I recognize my privilege to have been able to make lemon water out of this situation. It’s bitter, but I am hydrated. I live in Vermont. We have the lowest rate of COVID cases in the country. I have the advantage to feel okay about attempting a hybrid learning situation. When I don’t work, I don’t make money and when my kids are home and when I am assisting them with schoolwork, I don’t work. While optimistic, there are still elements of worry — even here, where camps and daycares have been successful and outbreaks have not happened.
Back-to-school means back to high levels of inconsistency. A child entering a classroom on Monday and Tuesday may then be home and only home until the following Monday. They may never see anyone outside of their bubble. Another child may go to after-school care, then home. Another child may split time in multiple homes. Another child may be in care provided by the school district on the days they are not in class. Another child may be in pods during non-classroom days. There are many more scenarios, but my point is that each family is doing what “works for them.” But adding the variables of every version of a community’s choices into one building makes it very difficult to contain a highly contagious virus.
Add the variables of what works best for everyone in each community throughout the entirety of our country, and it seems like we will be treading water and tallying deaths for a long time. This blame does not fall on parents who are faced with inequities, teachers who choose to go back to the classroom, or kids who are entering schools. The blame falls directly on the shoulders of government leaders who encourage citizens to fend for themselves.
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