Amy Roberts: School’s out for summer. And then, who knows?
Last spring I watched from a social media and social distancing platform as my friends with kids, and my own sister, attempted to work from home and educate the little people in their lives at the same time. While the struggle was often real — common core math being taught by a generation that only knows how to carry the one — there were also many moments of levity. Everything from “teachers” who admitted they were drinking on the job and sleeping with the principal, to parents locking the kids out of the house and calling it recess.
For the most part, it seemed like parents were able to adapt, even if they did so begrudgingly, because there was a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Homeschooling was only supposed to last a couple of months. Turns out, though, that light wasn’t necessarily the end of a tunnel — rather, it might be the shine from an oncoming train.
There are a lot of questions and concerns about sending kids back to school next month, and not a lot of answers or reassurance. Unless of course you’re reassured by the woman who, during her Senate confirmation hearing as education secretary, said guns should be allowed in schools because they might be needed to protect students from “potential grizzlies.” With reasoning like that, no one should be surprised Betsy DeVos hasn’t outlined a plan for schools to reopen. She’s adamant that they must reopen, and even doubled down on that demand this weekend by stating she supported the president’s threat to withhold federal funding from public schools that remain closed.
“Kids have to get back to school,” she said repeatedly in multiple interviews. She added if schools don’t reopen, they would be breaking a “promise” to the federal government and shouldn’t receive funding. But when pressed for a strategy, she had nothing to say except, “Schools should do what’s right on the ground, at that time, for their students and for their situation.” Unless of course the right thing is to stay closed.
So, America’s top education official is happy to demand schools reopen, regardless of risks, but refuses to provide any guidance or direction on how to do so safely. The “every state for itself” model hasn’t exactly worked to stop this pandemic, but this administration has no intention of reversing course and instead remains stubbornly committed to its lack-of-leadership approach.
Which is probably why the reopening plan released by the Park City School District on Monday was vague to say the least. The announcement provided two options and fewer details. Essentially, students will go to school five days a week, or they can opt for online learning. There was no mention of staggering start times or days, no details about safety measures and precautions, no explanation on how or when online learning would be available or who would be doing the teaching. More details were promised “in the coming weeks.”
Considering school is set to begin in less than five weeks, I sure hope administrators aren’t waiting for guidance or solutions from Betsy. There are a number of real and concerning details that need to be addressed. Now. And they’re far more serious than the current conundrum: Should parents buy back-to-school clothes or pajamas for their kids?
Here are just a few scenarios I hope leaders at the Park City School District are working through:
If a teacher, or a teacher’s spouse/child/roommate, tests positive for COVID-19, is there a mandatory quarantine? If so, is that considered paid leave? What about a janitor, or bus driver, or the lunch lady?
Will students who were in contact with that adult need to quarantine too since they were likely exposed? If they need to be tested, is that something the school district pays for?
If a teacher tests positive and needs to quarantine, the district is going to have to hire a substitute teacher. Will there be mandatory testing of each substitute before he or she is allowed in the classroom? If so, who will pay for this? Test results can take three to five days to come back. What happens in the interim?
Are there additional counselors and other resources available to support children if they have to grieve the loss of a teacher or friend?
What is the tipping point for an outbreak? And what is the plan if we reach it?
There are no easy or immediate answers, but one thing is clear: Winging it doesn’t work. We’ve seen that time and time again with the lack of leadership at the federal level. If schools are going to reopen, there needs to be a defined, adaptable and well-communicated strategy. Because telling kids to “avoid getting cooties” isn’t going to cut it.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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Columnist Amy Roberts asks whether we are so far removed from reality and the natural world that filing a police report seems like an acceptable course of action after spotting a moose in the mountains.