The conversations about coronavirus and school reopenings are becoming more emotional

Before we get any deeper into this post, let me state very clearly that I fault no parent looking at the beginning of this school year for his or her child(ren) with dread. In fact, I’m one of them: My 16-year-old is about to begin his junior year of high school, and I’ve never felt so unsettled about what he’ll face over the roughly 9-month school year.

No matter if that parent believes K-12 school buildings ought to be open or closed, parents and students are heading into a school year in which “normal” will not exist.

We know there will be restrictions on some school activities, if the buildings are open, as educators do everything possible to limit the potential spread of coronavirus. That could mean reducing or eliminating sports, theater, dance, band, some group learning activities and more.

We know vigilance to the nth degree will be apparent, again if the buildings are open, as principals and teachers follow strict health and safety protocols, which begin with wearing masks and continue from there. “Zero tolerance” are two words that will be heard often.

And, yes, we know that when instruction is moved to remote delivery, parents’ work schedules and students’ learning opportunities will change. (More on that below.)

Conversations about K-12 education are too often no longer about science and data, but rather about emotion and feelings. Words such as “scared,” “frightened,” “angry” and more are read in emails and heard in chats.

As I write this, I’m reminded of a favorite expression from the pastor at a church my wife and I used to attend: “Stop feeling and start thinking.” Right now, it’s the other way around with too many people no longer thinking, but instead being ruled by their emotions.

I repeat what I stated at the top of this post: I don’t blame them.

What has followed from this “start feeling, stop thinking” mode includes allies being sought out, as parents seek to “prove” their argument is the right one; sharp criticisms of parents who hold differing opinions; and suggestions that school district leaders are not listening to reason. (I”m cutting off the list there, but it most certainly could be longer.)

I believe K-12 school buildings ought not be open, but I support superintendents seeking to begin the school year with face-to-face instruction. Yes, you may accuse me of talking out of both sides of my mouth; and if you do, I’ll call myself guilty. We know K-12 students do better inside a classroom, and I applaud every effort being made by district leaders all across the country to make that happen.

And I believe they’ll be forced to close the school buildings’ doors, and perhaps for many months, at some point this school year.

Months ago, “the second wave in the fall” was heard everywhere. That phrase was based on an important premise: Federal and state leaders would create strategies that would tamp down coronavirus throughout the spring and summer leading to months of reduced cases. Under this scenario, Americans wouldn’t be out of the woods, but we’d be prepared for the feared second wave once it arrived.

Sadly, at the federal level and at too many state levels, leadership has been absent. One result: much of America will enter the fall never having experienced a sustained lull in coronavirus numbers, and therefore “the second wave in the fall” will be nothing more than the continuation of the first wave.

As the pandemic rolled on into June and July, the opening of restaurants, people flocking to beaches, a whole of people choosing vacations and other activities provided the right environments for coronavirus to continue spreading. And it did.

Now, with August upon us, we’re well aware that roughly 40% of the states are in dangerous situations. Governors of the other states are ordering mandatory quarantines for people entering from one of those states where coronavirus is out of control.

Parents look at what’s happening and their most base feeling — protect my child(ren) — kicks in. As it should. But that’s leading to either an unwillingness or an inability to remember the value of other opinions. The video feeds of the two most recent school district meetings in my community demonstrate this divide: School administrators presenting sobering and serious plans for the potential for reopening the district’s buildings followed by many emotionally laden responses.

Fault anyone for such statements? Absolutely not. But they do indicate that locally and all over the country, anxiety levels are creeping up. It’ll be important to retain an open mind in these times.

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