Back to school
What is the right answer about sending kids back to school this fall?

Since March, I’ve often thought that I’ll reflect on the day that the governor shut down the schools due to the global pandemic much in the same way I remember the moment I was told that the planes hit the Twin Towers. That moment will be emblazoned into my mind: where I was, who I was with, how I felt. I was in disbelief and dismay, filled with questions and astonished by the gravity of the situation unfolding.

Now as we wrap up July and begin to shift into the August “back to school” mindset, everyone I know is wrestling with the uncertainty of the situation. 

My friends who teach in the classroom are overwhelmed and terrified, moving from nearly half a year of being home to re-entering their workplace and risking exposure to hundreds or thousands of people they haven’t been around. They’re faced with new restrictions and challenges along with unprecedented levels of preparation for their classrooms and their lesson plan. And, they’re wondering whether they can even effectively do their job amidst this chaos, and for how long?

As a parent, I’m wrought with complicated emotions about sending my kids back to school this fall. My school-aged children are four and seven years old, and I don’t expect that they’ll be as effective in social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing as they would if I were there to remind them. 

After months of limiting our exposure by avoiding gatherings and grocery stores, it seems insane to drop them at the front door of their school where they’ll intermix with many other children who are out of our quarantine circle, whose families have embodied any level of risk. 

At the same time, I feel heart-wrenched by the idea of embarking on a school year with a new teacher and a new curriculum without any time in the classroom, without having even met the person responsible for my child’s education. I’m unsure of how two working parents who are back in the office also manage the education of two children in a way that would be in any way effective. 

When the school year ended online, I think we were all awestruck by the adaptability of our teachers in an adverse situation. They went online and figured out a new way to teach in seemingly no time. They individualized and personalized their education. They found ways to assess students and partner with parents who were on the brink of despair as they too were learning new ways to work and live amidst the stay-at-home order. It was utterly remarkable. 

Those teachers already knew their students, though. They’d established routines and rhythms, they’d introduced concepts, they’d built relationships with our kids. Starting a school year remotely feels so different. And, at the same time, sending our kids into school and after-school programs seems fraught with danger to not only our kids, but to our families as cases continue to rise throughout our state.

One of the greatest lessons from this year for me has been to take things one day at a time, only troubling myself with the worries of the day as they come. Projecting into the future only leads to anxiety. But, as we all collectively try to plan for what to do about the fall, it seems so much harder for all of us to anchor ourselves squarely in the now because we’re facing an impossible decision with no defined right answer. 

When we’re faced with impossible decisions, we’re left only with our faith to guide us to what’s right. So, that’s where I’m sitting, in a posture of surrender that this decision is too much for my addled mind to make. It’s an invitation for God to guide and protect all of the children, all of the families and all of the school employees as we venture out into the unknown, whatever that may be. It’s a prayer for wisdom for leaders and administrators to know the right thing to do, and bravely make the hard decisions when they’re needed. It’s a plea for peace and abundant gratitude for what we have, right here in this moment.

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