School’s out forever

Posted 7/17/20

In addition to a nod at the rock ’n’ roll song by Alice Cooper, my title is hyperbole. I don’t really think that schools should be permanently closed.

But with the rise in COVID-19 cases, I …

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School’s out forever

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In addition to a nod at the rock ’n’ roll song by Alice Cooper, my title is hyperbole. I don’t really think that schools should be permanently closed.

But with the rise in COVID-19 cases, I do write to raise questions about sending students back this fall.

The American Academy of Pediatrics did recommend reopening schools. The argument is that the risk of children not being in school — in terms of a loss of socialization, lack of access to secure food sources and increased exposure to domestic strife — outweighs the risk of getting sick. Certainly, emotional as well as physical health is important for every child.

But let’s notice that these health benefits are actually beyond the stated purpose of public education.

The AAP recommends that schools reopen because parents need child care and children need access to reliable food and safe spaces. But why does school have to be the sole service provider for these essentials?

It seems to me that the coronavirus pandemic has exposed a fundamental weakness in our society. Our schools need more support not only in terms of investing in buildings, curriculums and teachers but also with other community services for children and families.

We are in the midst of a lethal global pandemic. We need both the vision to reimagine the role of our schools in society and the willingness to make effective changes for our families. Tragically, the coronavirus has revealed another fundamental weakness in our political leadership.

From the beginning of the outbreak, elected and appointed officials at local, state and federal levels have spoken of the desire to return to normal. They are really saying that “normal” relates to the economy. Perhaps the most extreme example was the lieutenant governor of Texas suggesting that senior citizens should be willing to sacrifice their lives so that people can get back to work.

Now we hear officials at the highest levels of the federal government insisting schools reopen, fully and on time. Do they expect teachers to sacrifice their lives? Cafeteria workers, janitors and school bus drivers? What about our children?

Notice I write “our” children. My wife and I parent three young ones. But any society that does not consider each and every child as its own is a society lacking in moral imagination. They are all our children.

Again, we are in the midst of a lethal pandemic. It’s important to remember that the coronavirus is “novel,” meaning brand new. There have been no long-term studies. While the mortality rates among children are low, we do not know the morbidity rates. We do not know the damaging effects of the virus on children.

Why would our political leaders be willing to gamble the long-term health of our children for the short-term viability of our economy? There is an election this fall.

I want to be clear that my criticism is levied against the institutions of our society and those who have been charged to lead them. I have no judgment for individual families who choose to send their kids to school in the fall. Again, I have skin in the game. I have sympathy for everyone who has to make the hard choice about whether or not to send their children to school. I do know that for some families, there are no other options.

My point is that our society could reimagine ways to meet the needs of children without putting large numbers of people at risk for infection. I want radical change in the face of pandemic and not a misguided attempt to return to normal.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church and author of Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems. He is currently working from home with his wife and three children.


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