We are in an anguishing predicament concerning in-person school reopening.
On the one hand, we are not ready to open in-person schools. With COVID-19 continuing to spike in many communities, it simply poses too great a risk for school children, teachers and staff to do so.
On the other hand, online classes are too burdensome for parents who are also trying to juggle the daily demands of work and home responsibilities. This is especially the case for younger children.
However, we can fix this. It is up to us.
Public health officials are in near-unanimous agreement that if everyone would simply wear a mask for the next four to eight weeks, properly and consistently, and practice distancing measures when in unavoidable gatherings, our communities would have a fighting chance to return to some semblance of normalcy.
Infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths would be reduced dramatically. This would give our state leaders and education administrators the time they need to secure funding for a safe and healthy plan to return to in-person learning.
There is no doubt our children need to be around other children. There is no doubt we have all had enough and wish we could return to non-pandemic times.
There is no doubt we love our children and want the best for them, including the countless thousands of us who have adult children and family members working in our public schools.
But we must make sound decisions based on the clear-eyed reality we are in the midst of a pandemic and that we have not taken the necessary steps to mitigate its lethal spread.
I write this as a minister, former educator, parent and grandparent who wants to see my grandchildren and all children grow up in a healthy, safe environment.
I am concerned about the well-being of all children, including their mental, physical and spiritual well-being.
I see parents with the economic means to do so forming “pods” with other parents, paying for teachers and caregivers. The goal is to provide a safe, small grouping that will allow for the social and educational needs of their children.
But what of our less affluent children whose families do not have the means to provide these “pandemic pods?” Once again, it leaves these children even further behind, stuck in widening achievement gaps difficult for even our most gifted educators to close.
This existential dilemma requires Solomonic decision-making. No path will be perfect. But these steps must be taken now:
First, postpone all in-person school reopenings for the next 30 days, with an honest, non-politicized appraisal about the next 30.
Many school districts have already made this wise decision. People of faith who believe in a loving, creating, teaching God should support the superintendents and school boards who have acted courageously on behalf of our children and their frontline, first-responder providers: our dedicated public-school teachers.
Second, provide the $400 billion in federal funding necessary for safe, in-person school reopening.
This is the price tag for the additional procedures, equipment, space and personnel required to keep our kids safe in their scholastic gatherings. Let our public schools be the pods our children and parents need.
Third, cancel all high-stakes, standardized testing for the 2020-21 school year.
The last thing our children need right now is a burdensome, stress-producing assessment that does not adequately measure their God-given capabilities and growth areas.
This pandemic is a traumatic experience for our entire community. The first step to recovery from a traumatic experience is the establishment of safety.
Right now, we have competing safety issues: safety for our physical well-being, our economic well-being, our mental health and our spiritual needs. We must work cooperatively in order to address these needs.
This pandemic is not happening to one person; it is happening to all of us and it will take all of us, working together, to achieve the best recovery possible.
This is not a liberal/conservative issue. This is about putting the lives of our children first. We can surely all agree their health and well-being is our first priority.
We are called by God to love one another, to encourage one another, to build one another up.
Let’s not ask more of our children and educators than we are willing to give ourselves. Let’s support them in every way possible, prioritizing their health and well-being first and foremost.
We will not recover from this pandemic as a community until safety for one and all is our daily refrain.
May the peace of Christ be with us.
Recently retired as the pastor of the Church of the Savior in Austin, Texas, Wilson is a former public school educator and an advocate with Pastors for Texas Children.