President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are demanding that schools reopen this fall and have in-seat classes.
The reason for Trump’s insistence has been cataloged over and over. DeVos, Trump’s mouthpiece, is of course going to echo her boss.
Most school districts are trying to find a way to comply with Trump’s mandate within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines. In places where the coronavirus is at record levels, the school districts are not going to reopen. To date, I know of two that are not going to comply with Trump’s order — Los Angeles and San Diego.
Sending our children back to school this fall creates a dilemma of the following kind.
On one hand, all of us want our children to go back to school for multiple reasons. Returning to school provides socialization opportunities our children have missed since mid-March, when most of our schools went to remote/online learning models.
The effects of being quarantined are noticeable when considering the emotional and mental health of our children and I dare say their parents. Some argue that face-to-face classes are better in quality than remote learning.
I know that in my own case, I am good via Zoom, but I am an awesome teacher in a face-to-face setting. Not a brag; just fact.
But on the other hand, COVID–19 is growing at an incredible rate throughout Missouri and the U.S. The virus is real, and unlike the Trump administration, I believe the medical and scientific experts.
While I do not exalt the experts as gods with infallible knowledge, I think we ought to pay attention to what the research is saying and do the simple things like wear masks, social distance and wash our hands.
The data about how the virus affects children is still incomplete, but we know they can be carriers, and not only to their parents and grandparents. They can infect teachers, administrators, school staffs, custodians, bus drivers and cafeteria workers.
Sending our children back to school is a real dilemma.
The real issue is how parents and family members feel about the mandate to reopen. Unlike Trump and DeVos, I asked parents in Columbia and other places the following question: Are you concerned about sending your children and/or grandchildren back to school this fall?
In my simple survey placed on social media in two locations and with mask-to-mask interviews with 1,250 respondents, I received the following feedback:
• A total of 97% stated they were extremely concerned about sending their children back to school. About 93% of the 97% stated they were not sending their children to school but had elected to go with remote learning or homeschooling for their children. The other 4% of the 97% stated they were sending their children to school because of financial reasons but were afraid.
• Two percent stated that they trusted the school their children were attending and had little or no concern about the virus and that the mental health of their child, given the lack of socialization, was most important to them.
• One percent stated they had no concern at all regarding the virus because they believed that the virus was either a hoax or that they believe 99% of the people who are infected with COVID-19 recover.
Some of the comments and questions from responders were remarkably interesting:
• What do we do about buses full of children? Social distancing cannot be practiced, and we know that our children will be so excited to see their classmates that they will interact without supervision.
• If a teacher becomes infected, do all the students of that teacher need to quarantine for 14 days? Who will cover the teacher’s classes? Who will pay for it?
• If one student becomes infected, how will we know in time, and what does that mean for all who came in contact with him/her?
• If schools are forced to shut down school again because of the virus, how are parents to reschedule work and child care?
These are just a few of the questions they asked. All of them are important. The fundamental existential question for me: Are we playing Russian roulette with our children, our teachers, our school workers or ourselves?
Thanks to everyone that responded to my question about sending our children back to school this fall. Indeed, we are caught in the horns of a dilemma.
The Rev. C.W. Dawson Jr. was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy at MU. He teaches at Columbia College and Moberly Area Community College and writes for the Missourian.