Well, here we go again. Another school year is upon us. On the best of days, yours is a hard job. This year looks like it is going to be the most challenging ever. Just what you needed, right? Let’s throw all the obstacles we can in your path and make your job as difficult as possible and then wring our hands at how public schools are failing society.
You and I know it is not public education that is failing society. It is, in fact, society that is doing the failing. Yet, you are expected to close the schoolhouse door on poverty, drugs, gangs, transiency, hunger, apathy, violence, political partisanship, a lack of respect for authority and somehow magically penetrate young minds with enough knowledge to make them productive citizens one day.
Your reward has been for our intrepid public servants in the Legislature to ignore solving those problems and instead to encourage running away from them with their private school voucher scheme, currently costing the state budget a cool $100 million at a time we can least afford it.
And, of course, there are the myriad of directions you are getting from more sides than a hexagon about reopening schools. First, Donald Trump is ordering everybody back to school or warning he will withhold federal funding. His lapdog, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who is about as qualified for that job as I am to be a kung fu instructor, says there is no evidence to suggest that starting back would be dangerous.
“Risk is involved in everything we do,” she intones, “from learning to ride a bike to riding a rocket into space and everything in between.” So, while some of you may risk getting COVID-19, at least it won’t be on a rocket ship. Hopefully, that is of some comfort to you.
State health commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey said state officials expect that students and teachers will be infected, but that the state is working to provide resources to protect individuals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that children appear to be at a lesser risk for COVID-19 than do adults. And the last I looked teachers are adults (more than many parents.)
Gov. Brian Kemp at first suggested that Georgia’s public schools not open for face-to-face instruction until after Labor Day but didn’t press the issue. So the state Board of Education said they would leave it up to the local school boards.
Marietta’s school board voted 6-1 to start the school year online only on Aug. 4. Marietta school Superintendent Grant Rivera says teachers will be allowed to conduct virtual learning from their classroom if they so choose.
And then the esteemed Cobb County School Board took a few moments away from their dueling resolutions on racism to discuss something as mundane as reopening schools. Cobb school Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, who must feel like he is dealing with a roomful of circus clowns, announced that classes will resume online only on Aug. 17.
That didn’t sit well with Michael Shelley, a parent who has spearheaded a petition calling on Ragsdale to open schools for in-person instruction despite the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Georgia and Cobb County.
According to Shelley, parents and families should be able to choose in-person instruction for their students. “The purpose of this petition is to regain our rights to choose, as parents and taxpayers in Cobb County, GA, to send our children to school utilizing the traditional classroom setting,” Shelley wrote in the petition, while acknowledging that a number of signers don’t live in Cobb.
Petitioners have agreed that if a child or parent is exposed or infected with COVID-19 and becomes sick, disabled, or dies, they will waive the right to bring any legal action against the district. Are these people serious? “If you have to sign a death waiver for your child, clearly it’s not safe for you to go back,” Cobb County school PTA president Stephanie Barringer said. Amen.
Connie Jackson, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, said she has received hundreds of emails from those of you who are terrified of returning to face-to-face instruction too soon. “Unfortunately, due to what’s going on with COVID, that option is not the safest and best for teachers and students at this time.” Jackson said. Amen again.
So, here we are, teachers. A virus raging. The president warning. The governor waffling. Parents threatening. A school board mired in racial finger-pointing. Politicians sucking up to you at election time so they can get back in office and undermine you at every turn. And all we expect you to do is to challenge and inspire young minds to make this a better world.
Frankly, I don’t know how you do it and sometimes I wonder why you do it. But I for one am grateful you that you do. Amid all the cacophony, please don’t forget that yours is a noble profession and that none of the politicians or petitioners are worthy to carry your bookbag.