When the 2019-20 school year started, no one was prepared to abruptly end the year, send kids home and start distance learning for everything from physics to physical education.
Adjustments across the country were made on the fly by teachers. Personal emails and cell phone numbers were common forms of communication trying to get everyone on the same page.
There was also the emotional toll.
Kids who spent months practicing for school plays and musicals no longer had practices to look forward to after school and into the late hours of the night. There were no final music performances of the year.
On the field, “wait til next year” lost all meaning. Student-athletes who worked hard in the off-season for that chance at a championship had no chance. Seniors who stuck it out for six seasons waiting for their chance at a starting position were back on the bench.
For years working for a newspaper, we have heard complaints about playing time, coaching, officiating. The parents and students from the Class of 2020 handled the sudden completion of their academic, artistic, musical and competitive careers with more class than I’ve ever seen or expected. I keep thinking of my children and how I would have handled it. I’m glad I wasn’t in that position.
With months to prepare for a new school year, everything is in place as students start to enter school.
But I don’t expect it to last.
We were not prepared for the last sudden halt of a school year, so we need to be prepared for schools to shut down as soon as two weeks into the year.
Unlike notebooks and pens, there is no abundance of hand sanitizers and masks. I can find tissues but not cleaning wipes.
When masks start to run out or are left on buses and in bathrooms, another problem comes up.
Then there’s the iPads and Chromebooks. When you see a student every single day, it’s easy to get them returned and have IT work on those that don’t work. When they aren’t all turned in, new ones have to be ordered. Schools have had issues with them on back orders or not passing through customs.
Then there is the major unknown. Positive COVID-19 cases.
They will happen.
As someone who looks at numbers daily, I understand those who want life back to normal. They argue the low number of cases and low hospitalization rate.
Schools have dealt with everything from head lice to the worst flu strains for years. This is not the flu. This is the first virus that could literally kill a teacher, monitor, cafeteria worker or bus driver or cause long-term physical ailments.
When the number of available bus drivers and support staff hit critical numbers, something has to give.
Do I want a full school year with extra-curricular activities? Yes, we all do. You have parents or casual fans of sports and performances who only go because they know someone. We go all the time to everything no matter the year or season and we miss that.
But there’s a chance the only way to safely have extra-curricular activities is through full-time distance learning.
In East Texas, testing of plasma is pointing toward a cure. Work continues on a vaccine.
Until this happens, teachers have a window to get to know their students and go over expectations for the year. These first weeks are critical. Meanwhile, the IT departments and administrations have to prepare for students to go virtual once again.
Schools proved they can have safe graduations. Summer programs have proved they can hold events. Closing school for in-person classes this round should not be an end to a career. It’s just one more step toward adjusting, staying safe and ready for the pandemic that faced grade-school teachers for centuries: cooties.