Tears ran down my cheeks as my spouse and I sat in the den discussing our school plans for the fall and what we would decide for our kindergartner and third grader.
Though it is early August, my mind wandered to an annual November tradition at our children’s elementary school.
The kindergarten Turkey Parade has been going on for as long as any staff members can remember.
Kindergarteners make paper grocery bag costumes with turkey feather headbands and march the halls of the school singing, “We’re not for Thanksgiving, but only for Living. Gobble, Gobble, Gobble, Plump Turkeys are we!”
This silly and fun seasonal ritual forms a sacred memory of childhood for these students; it foreshadows their same walk on “Moving Up Day” at the end of fifth grade when the school lines the hall and wishes them well in middle school.
It’s a bookend experience for students. It is their first real introduction to the community spirit in our local public school that they will carry with them.
Wake County Public School System – our local Raleigh, North Carolina, district, which is the 15th largest district in the country – was required by the state to come up with three plans for consideration for this school year.
“Plan A” for fully in-person school is not being considered at this time.
“Plan B” is for one week in-person and two weeks virtual in rotation. This would place a third of students in the building at a time, allowing for physical distancing. A fully online virtual academy is also available.
“Plan C” is all remote learning, but we do not know yet how this differs from the virtual academy.
Our decision between Plan B and the virtual academy had to be submitted by July 20, despite not knowing how it will all work.
I am seeing debates on social media about which options to choose and why, with the question, “Why are you shaming me for making this choice?” in many posts.
It is time we all take a deep breath and a step back and take a wider view about schooling for 2020-21.
Requiring us to choose virtual or in-person learning is a false dichotomy being forced on us by legislators who have spent the last 20-plus years underfunding public schools in North Carolina while pushing privatization.
The general assembly has not made calendar flexibility or enough funding available to reopen schools safely.
No provisions have been made for adequate numbers of substitutes to cover when educators get sick, funds to cover extra buses needed for physical distancing, hazard pay for educators or determining who is responsible when a teacher or student contracts COVID-19 at school.
The data is skewed and lacking. Thankfully, even the American Academy of Pediatrics revised their statement and are calling on the government to provide more funding to try to ensure reopening schools is safe.
At a July 9 press conference, Gov. Roy Cooper urged businesses, nonprofits and community members to help provide PPE to local schools, like they do with school supplies.
In other words, the state is expecting someone else to step up and ensure our educators and students are safe.
Our government leaders have dramatically underfunded schools for so long that we are now conditioned to believe it is OK, and even expected, for the government and schools to ask parents and teachers to buy their own supplies.
This is unacceptable. Such reliance on the charity of individuals rather than the justice of public policy furthers inequity.
How can we be expected to even partially open schools when these guarantees of safety for educators and students can only be met with hopeful requests and not real dollars?
Parents, we must stand up with educators to say, “Enough is enough!” We must put our feet down and stand together.
If the start of school needs to be delayed and the calendar adjusted, we need to make that happen. If funding is not provided, we need to delay the start of classes.
We must put health and safety first. This is the way we love our neighbors and ourselves.
My spouse and I are choosing to keep our kids home and to do virtual learning for the sake of the common good. It is our way to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We are in a position to do so, and we are using that privilege to try to help. But we are doing so with fear and trembling, with two kids who cannot sit still and focus.
I have no idea how we will manage our own jobs plus two kids’ schooling needs. The virtual learning this spring was so hard, it almost broke me.
But “we can do hard things” and can grieve what will not be: a normal school year with normal memories and traditions.
As a mom, I was looking forward to placing photos of my two kids each wearing their turkey costumes at school in a frame side by side to remember the Turkey Parade tradition, but it will not happen.
My tears will still fall at times when grief strikes. Even grief for minor things like a Turkey Parade is hard.
But life, health and the common good are worth it. My faith calls me to pursue hope, love and living – just like the Turkeys in the Parade.
Editor’s note: Good Faith Media and Pastors for Texas Children are producing a series of Good Faith Forums on public education during August. Learn more here.
Pastors for NC Children invites you to join in “Public Education Advocacy and Faith: Why the Church Should Care” at 7 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 16 online. Learn more and register for free at PastorsForNCChildren.org. Join the conversation @pastors4nckids on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
Suzanne Parker Miller is an ordained Moravian minister living in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her spouse, kindergartner and third grader. She is the executive director of Pastors for NC Children.