There’s no way we can go back to school and keep children and educators safe. I’ve resigned myself to this, and at the same time it makes me really frustrated and really angry.
There are tourists and locals filling restaurants here every night. Bars are open. The local water park is hosting kids and their families each day. Music lessons and gymnastics practices and dance classes have resumed for kids. How is it that so many unnecessary elements of life are functional and school is a giant omnishambles?
I’m thankful that businesses have been able to re-open and that people have been able to get back to work. I’m thankful that people can start to pay their rent and their bills. But I can’t shake this feeling that while it’s great that my daughters and I could get our hair done and have acrylic nails put on, that’s not what we – meaning our government and leaders – should have chosen as the stuff to focus on.
It’s clear to me that we’ve put lots of thought and energy and resources into many wrong things since mid-March. We have kids back on balance beams and to practices for whatever sports they play, but what the hell were we doing focusing even one ounce of energy on those things before we figured out how to safely educate our nation’s children?
In the last four months that we’ve known about this coming problem, it just seems like we’ve done a whole lot of nothing. And now we have proposed the couple paths of least resistance, giving parents (but not really teachers) a “choice,” and we are calling that our best.
1. Students can attend school in person, full or part-time, with safety protocols.
2. Students can opt for 100% online, with parents committing to this plan for the first half of the year.
In some districts, school is 100% virtual for the first quarter with the goal of 50/50 later in the year – meaning 2 days a week for some, 2 days a week for others, and 1 day a week teacher work day. In some districts, no decisions have officially been made yet – although I think they have been made and elected cowards are delaying the inevitable backlash as long as possible.
Distance learning, as we’ve had it, was not learning. Learning is the acquiring of new knowledge. At best our distance program was maintenance. Maintenance with really crappy technology that was not designed for the volume it’s been seeing. Maintenance because maybe it kept some children at the level they were on when they walked out of schools on March 13. Maintenance that really only benefitted those children living in the best of circumstances, with technology at home and parents or siblings or caregivers to help.
I realize that the plan for “learning” is supposed to be different for the fall session than it was back in the spring, but I just don’t see how it can possibly be that effective – especially for children who aren’t privileged in some way. In the spring, Audrey’s elementary school teacher was absolutely fantastic. She sent regular updates, she gave clear directions for where to find everything, and she even scheduled one-on-ones with her students and showered them with love and attention and encouragement. From my vantage point, she did everything she could and more with the limited resources and guidelines she had. And yet on the weekly zoom calls she hosted, many – like roughly ⅓ – of the children didn’t attend and some of the children from Audrey’s class literally never attended. I wonder how those children are faring? I wonder if anyone making decisions about school wonders about how those children are faring and really considers them in these decisions?
At the high school level, I experienced three categories of engagement from teachers. Some sent no status until the end of the year. Some sent a progress report every 2-3 weeks. One teacher sent a consistent weekly report or check-in. That regular check-in was from Ella’s PE teacher, and while I was thankful for the update that’s not the class I was wondering about. But the bottom line is that each of those levels of engagement for my high school student was fine because she’s an honor student. She got her work done, which I was able to check online at any time, and she will likely always do so with little-to-no prodding by me. Learning is not hard for her and she lives in a home with high-speed internet and with a parent who can work from home. She has the ability to ask questions of dozens of smart friends and adults any time. (Although I could not help with trigonometry if my life depended on it.) She is privileged.
Distance learning is not ideal for large portions of our population now matter how you cut it – for children who struggle with learning, for children who don’t struggle with learning, for children who have fewer resources, for children who have IEPs or 504s. Distance learning is not ideal for many children who are privileged and downright not possible for many children who aren’t. And yet if distance learning is truly the only safe option, why have we put so little effort into making it feasible for as many children as possible?
I understand that to some extent our leaders are reacting to a situation that is constantly changing, but how did we not have even a basic disaster plan for education in a time of war or crisis that we could have built upon for something like this health crisis? How did companies around the world send millions of people to work at home and we can’t figure out something better than the constantly-crashing Schoology? How come other countries have figured this out and we haven’t? (I do know that in part the answer to that last question is that citizens of those other countries acted like adults, put on their big-people panties, and wore the damn masks to prevent the kind of health crisis we’re facing in the U.S.)
It seems like we just put all the wrong people on this task force. This is not the fault of teachers. This is the fault of leaders. And this is the fault of voters. We’ve made some very poor leadership choices, and now our children are going to suffer the consequences of that. That weighs on me. I pay a lot of attention to national elections and state elections, but not as much to local school board stuff. That is a bad, bad, bad habit.
I don’t have any answers. Just frustrations. And regrets. And foreboding. And sadness. And a growing worry that at some point we’re even going to expect our teachers to pay for their own PPE.