Learning at risk

Our local school district released its proposal for in-person learning when classes resume this fall. Families will have the choice of full-time online learning from home, or a hybrid of online and in person learning.

The hybrid plan works like this: Mondays will be taught online entirely. For the remainder of the week, students whose families choose the hybrid model will be divided into two groups. Group A will attend school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and will attend virtually on Wednesdays and Fridays. Group B will do the inverse.

It’s an imperfect plan, but that’s largely because no perfect plan exists. We live in imperfect times. The Coronavirus pandemic in this country shows no sign of being under control. To reopen schools in any form is to expose children (and educators, and administrators, and support staff) to the increased likelihood of infection. There’s simply no argument otherwise.

We already send our children to a day camp while we work. We scarcely have a choice. The camp is being very careful, taking every precaution. Attendance is limited from previous summers. Masks are worn when indoors; social distancing is enforced when outdoors. Temperatures are taken every morning when we drop them off.

And still, the reality is, their risk of exposure and infection is increased by going to camp. Perhaps minimally, but still increased. Should they ever contract the virus, I would spend the rest of my life apologizing to them, begging them for the forgiveness I would never give myself. I do not seriously entertain the notion of quitting my job. But should any of them become sick, I will blame myself for not doing so. It would be a struggle, but we could survive on my wife’s salary alone. And in six months, or a year, or whenever, I could re-enter the market. I’ve found two jobs since we moved to this city six years ago. Both times, it took less than four months of searching. I could do it again. But I don’t.

Part of the reason, I suppose, is I want them to return to school. School is important. Important in a way that goes far beyond learning. They need the interaction. They need to be among their peers. Socialization is a crucial skill that can’t be taught at home (and certainly not by me!) It’s been only four weeks that they’ve been going to camp, and I see the difference in their demeanors. They have more to talk about at the end of the day. They are out in the world doing things. Is that enough to balance out the increase in risk? I don’t know. Since they were old enough to talk, we have told them that our most important job, any parent’s most important job, is to keep them safe. If they get sick, haven’t I failed that job?

So what brought it to this point? We basically shut down the entire country four months ago. What was gained from that? The government did nothing to prepare for the eventual reopening. It openly pressured states to reopen before they should have. It politicized the basic steps people could take to inhibit the spread of the virus. It made wearing a mask, or more appropriately *not* wearing a mask, a political statement. Meanwhile, we’ve passed 4 million total documented cases and are closing in on 150,000 deaths. Nearly 70,000 new cases are documented every day; more than a thousand new deaths. Here in Illinois, yesterday brought the highest number of new cases since June 2.

The virus is not unbeatable. In Germany, 454 people tested positive yesterday. Five people died. 280 cases and nine deaths in Italy. It’s been contained in many countries, just not here. 1,600 new cases in Illinois yesterday. 23 deaths. 68,000 cases and 1,100 deaths in the United States.

And we’re re-opening schools.

So my children will go to school. And they will be careful, and wear masks, and practice social distancing, and wash frequently. And despite all that, their risk of infection will increase. And I will never forgive myself for placing them in that situation if they become sick.

But there is a long list of people who I will also never forgive.