The reasons why not are simple. The infection in Texas is out of control. Rates of death and new cases continue to break records on an upward slope. It is now more or less impossible for schools to be open safely for in-person learning here. Other countries that are returning to relatively normal school schedules are doing so after weeks or months of steady decline in community spread. There is not enough time left between now and the start of school for that to happen here. Because of poor government response to the crisis and meatheaded resistance to what little was tried to stop the pandemic, that option is off the table. Narcissistic individualist belief that it will all be fine will not change that.
Luckily, many districts have seemed to come to grips with that. Houston ISD will be online only, and as so goes HISD so does much of the state. However not all have, including my own. Optional hybrid systems combining some in-person learning with remote have been suggested (as have just plowing ahead as if everything was fine), and like so much of the response to COVID outbreak it’s just another attempt by the government to pawn off responsibility of dealing safely with the situation onto citizens.
I get it. I really do. Texas has built itself up on the constant delusion of individual choice at the expense of safety for decades. It’s why we have such a liberal vaccination exemption policy offering refusal based on “conscience” despite constant outbreaks of deadly diseases that the vaccines would prevent. Texas spends so much of its time reassuring its residents that they are special little snowflakes who don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do that when real crises hit it’s almost impossible to force a coherent community response.
That deference is at the heart of the return to school debate. This pathological need to provide parents with an option, even when one option is a clear and inarguable death trap, only contributes to the idea that how to deal with coronavirus is somehow still a matter of public debate. It is not. Choice is being weaponized against us, and we need to throw it back like a tear gas cannister.
I’m not going to lie. I wish that my district would take this decision out of my hands as well. My daughter is entering middle school for the first time and qualified herself right out of beginning orchestra thanks to years of lessons and nailing an audition. She was going to start riding the bus by herself instead of being walked to school. This is a big transition from childhood into adolescence, and I really don’t want to be the person who takes yet another milestone and big life event away from her. It would be nice for the districts to take this cup from me.
But if they will not then it’s got to be us who decides and demands the safest option. We have to acknowledge that even a modified in-person schedule is not a risk we can afford. Teachers in Texas are already threatening to strike over lack of safety protocols, even if it costs them their pensions. As the president of the Texas branch of the American Federation of Teachers told me, “If you’re not around to enjoy your retirement, what good does it do?”
Does anyone really think that our kids are going to benefit from “socialization” when they have to sit in half empty classrooms manned by terrified teachers flying blind on top of not being able to touch or be within five feet of their friends? Is this dystopian nightmare really something we want to make our children live just because we’re desperate to pretend we won and nothing has to change?
That’s madness. Parents are going to have to take a lead here and demand that all schools offer remote learning and be granted the necessary equipment and utilities to apply it. If they won’t do it, we will have to do it for them. We’re going to have to tell our districts, our governor, and our president that we’re not coming back until it’s safe.
If they dig in their heels, we’re all going to have to learn to homeschool because algebra does not benefit the dead. It will suck hose water, but it’s less annoying than coffin shopping.
For the millions of families who find having their kids home keeps them from work, we must demand public funds to cover childcare or lost wages. This is our government system. We own it. We have the right to demand it serve the best interests of the people. We pay for the right to have our children educated in the best manner available to the state, and our state must be coerced into giving us our due.
That manner right now includes keeping them home and insisting that very sensible and necessary course of action be officially supported. There is just no more time to give them to hopefully maybe stumble onto the righteous path. They must be dragged, kicking and screaming. They’ve spent so much time catering to the whims of those who only use freedom to endanger others. We’re going to have to use that space to turn this outbreak around if we’re ever going to see normal again.