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Return to School?
In many parts of the country this is the first week back to school after winter break.
In normal times it would be a moment for excited chatter on the schoolyard. “What did you get for Christmas?” “Did you go anywhere?” “I missed you.” “What are you doing this weekend?”
To be sure, some of these conversations will take place, but hanging over this moment, as it hangs over so much of life today and the holidays that just occurred, is the dark shadow of the pandemic. And now we have the spiking cases from the omicron variant, which seems to be everywhere, because it is. Many colleges and universities are delaying a return to school. Most K-12 districts are not, although more seem to be altering their re-opening plans.
The decisions parents face are difficult. Do you keep kids home? How often do you test? Do you just give up and expect everyone already has COVID, or will get it?
By now, our societal failures, our failed leadership, and even our own mistakes, are well known. It would be one thing if we were contending with these dangers together, if we had all gotten vaccinated, and boosted, if we all understood that masks work, if we had more adequate testing. Even if all that was in place, returning to school would be challenging. But of course we are a long way from that ideal. A very long way.
We live in a patchwork nation, where how seriously people take this deadly virus, and what they will do to protect themselves and their communities, varies greatly. Parents in school districts that have done a lot to prepare, where masks are mandatory and most students and staff are vaccinated, still face a lot of uncertainty. But they are in a far better place than those who live in areas where flouting public health and dismissing the virus is the norm, and even something to be celebrated.
Sadly, many of those who will suffer the most are the children, too young to make their own decisions, failed by their leaders and the other grownups who shape the world in which they live. Closing schools for so long in the past was a mistake. Now not adapting or preparing adequately for new realities is another mistake.
There have been many stories of how fraught school has become, of more behavioral problems, of teachers leaving. One senses we are in for more chaos ahead. The great hope is that this wave passes quickly, and with as minimal amount of damage as possible. But the actions of too many people are making that less likely.
For all those who are frustrated with what is happening in the schools, your sentiments are certainly warranted. But we should also have some understanding for the difficult decisions those leading schools have to make. There are no perfect answers here, probably not even good answers. It’s all about managing risk, and safety, and learning, and social cohesion, and all the other elements of life that are under such strain.
What is necessary is resilience and adaptability, as well as a bit of humility for those trying in good faith to make things work. Those who have undercut the vaccine efforts, who have turned opposing masks into some misplaced badge of freedom, deserve all the scorn and anger. Those trying to chart paths amidst the chaos deserve our thanks and support.
As hard as it is to believe now, we will emerge from this crisis at some point. Many public health experts say that better days, much better days, could be only a few weeks away. We can hold onto the light even as we all try to navigate through the darkness.
Note: We would be very interested to hear personal stories of how people in your families are dealing with the return to school.