At my daughter’s elementary school, every child learns three things from the first day of kindergarten on: “Be kind and respectful. Be responsible. Be safe.” These principles inform every aspect of school life, creating a caring atmosphere that’s one of the reasons I love her school and want to send her back in person this fall.
But I can’t.
Our school is currently offering both online and in-person options, and at first I struggled with which to choose. Yet if I ask myself the same questions my child has been taught to ask, the answer is clear.
Is returning in person kind?
I recently attended a (virtual) school board meeting. District teachers spoke, often tearfully, about how they were being forced to choose between a career they love and—quite possibly—their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Unlike district families, teachers aren’t being given a choice. If they’re assigned to teach in person, they need to either show up or resign.
It’s a cruel choice, and kindness demands I not ask teachers to make it. Instead, by agreeing to learn remotely, I help increase the number of teachers who can teach remotely.
Is it respectful?
Throughout the United States, teachers are terrified of returning to face to face learning. Here in Arizona educators have already died, even while socially distancing, even on relatively empty campuses. What will happen when our facilities are closer to full?
Respect demands I recognize that our teachers’ lives are just as important as our children’s lives. If I respect educators, I can’t put them in harm’s way for my own benefit.
Is it responsible?
Arizona’s per-capita rate of Covid-19 cases are among the highest in the country, as are the resulting deaths, and our hospitals are running out of ICU beds.
Responsibility demands not giving our tapped-out public health system more cases to treat. It demands I step up and do my part to help my community maintain the capacity to treat all who are sick, so that our hospitals don’t have to make life-or-death decisions about who receive care and who doesn’t.
Is it safe?
Remote learning has been challenging for my daughter and me, as it has been for so many families, and I have a new appreciation of the ways the benefits of face-to-face learning extend far beyond academic achievement. I want so badly for my child to experience those benefits once more.
But like my child, I have to accept that sometimes, being safe means we can’t always do what we want. Evidence is growing that single greatest Covid-19 risk is simply sharing an enclosed space with other people, breathing the same air for an extended period of time. That’s pretty much the definition of classroom learning, and I’ve yet to see a plan effectively mitigates that risk.
Safety demands I not send my child into this dangerous situation, even if she wants to be there, even if I want her to be there, too. Not yet.
Not until Arizona’s Covid-19 numbers drop—and our understanding of the virus grows—enough that we can return in a way that truly is kind, respectful, responsible, and safe.