It cannot be overstated that education, perhaps more than any other American institution, has been radically transformed by the raging virus that has now claimed more than 150,000 lives nationally, six months after the first evidence of a new, worrisome crisis in our world began to materialize.
And while we have all had to consider what our priorities are during this time, for many, the most basic of those are becoming increasingly threatened: food, shelter, socialization. Children have suffered greatly, too, in deeply profound ways. A total loss of routine, academic or otherwise; access to meals; recreation opportunities; time with friends; safety behind the walls of a building where they have advocates and support systems.
How wholly rotten, how unfair to the most vulnerable, how destabilizing, is that?
Chiefly on so many minds is how to conduct school as fall semester approaches. The American Federation of Teachers union — the second largest in the country — signaled on Tuesday that it would support teacher strikes among its members, albeit as a last resort, who organize in response to measures they view as inadequate to protect them or their students. That union is also pressing for member districts to keep schools closed until infection rates in their municipality fall below 1%. That’s not happening in many places, including in King County.
The range of opinions on how to keep schools safest run the gamut — from continuing lessons in isolation on screens to hosting groups outdoors for learning in an environment that may pose a lesser risk for spreading COVID-19. To the other extreme, according to some in the federal government, we can’t let science get in the way of this, and must push on no matter what with reopening schools.
Let’s be clear that every student in this country would be better off among their peers in their own classrooms. And that’s to say nothing of the conditions of those schools before this pandemic — in what is supposedly the greatest country in the world, the difference in the quality of the education your child receives could be determined by a zip code. As this conversation about whether — and how, if at all — to open schools or not continues, know that this pandemic has the potential to turn the achievement gap into the Mariana Trench.
Vashon has the tremendous fortune of being a zip code where students are given many of the tools they need to aim high. But for them, and those serving them in the district, success doesn’t come without hard work. We know students here are served by highly qualified, dedicated faculty and staff, people who care about the well-being of those they teach and who work tirelessly to provide them what they need to transform themselves into the people they need to become.
No doubt there is so much to consider, and so much at stake, for our students and those who teach them. But we cannot afford a single misstep in the crucial days ahead. If we ever could.
Rheagan Spark writes in her commentary for The Beachcomber this week that changes have been so rapid that it’s made planning for the fall extremely difficult. The best that can be hoped for is to make lemonade out of COVID’s lemons, she says. Surely our educators can do more for our students than that. And they would be able to — if only our county had flattened the curve and kept it there. Yet we continue to see new cases — two on the island just this week — proliferate in Washington. Gov. Jay Inslee is supposedly mulling over a new stay at home order while imposing additional restrictions last week. And here we are, all these months later after this all started with nothing to show for our early, earnest sacrifices, our blind hope that we could turn this around.
Clearly some people are just not getting it. Time for a pop quiz: 1.) If you can’t wear a mask in public to protect yourself and those around you, should you go out? Answer: No. 2.) You and 14 of your relatives are invited to attend your cousin’s “social distancing” (but not really) barbecue (Uncle Kevin thinks this is all a hoax). Should you go? Answer: No. 3.) If you want to patronize a local business or restaurant — they do need your support — should you consider carry out as opposed to dining in? Answer: Yes. Don’t put essential workers at greater risk than they have to be right now.
Every day — every week — counts. Our actions — yours, ours, what we do together — will determine when our students can return to school, and when our brilliant educators can meet them, finally. We will set our entire nation desperately behind if we fail them now.