Growing up, we had a chow/shepherd mix named Dudley. We brought him home, skin and bones, from the local animal shelter. He smelled like cinnamon and always looked like he was wearing the most perfect eyeliner. Passionate and playful, he had an enduring love affair with two things: Food and walks.
One day, my mom grabbed his leash right after I had poured food into Dudley’s bowl. He looked back and forth between the juicy kibble and my mother, waiting at the door. As silly and benign as it seemed to us, this was the hardest decision he’d ever have to make.
As the pandemic rages on outside, parents can empathize. Not exactly, of course, as we’re not choosing between a stroll around the block and eating. But, if we were, I’m picking food each time. Cheese, specifically.
What we are choosing between is sending our children back to school or letting them stay home and learn online. And neither option feels appetizing.
One one hand, going back to school returns kids to a sense of normalcy – they’ll see their teachers, play with their friends, and maybe sneak a taste of Elmer’s glue every now and then. Of course, in-person learning is almost always more effective than anything virtual.
On the other, schools are vectors of contagion, petri dish palaces where colds, flus, and everything else runs rampant. They might be the perfect breeding ground for Corona, too. Thus, opening schools will undoubtedly compromise the health of teachers, students, and families.
There’s logistic problems too: What happens when a student gets infected? Does it set off a game of disease dominos where the entire school goes into quarantine? What if this pattern keeps repeating? Do administrators throw in the rally towel and go online entirely?
Ultimately, parents have two choices: The rock or the hard place.
As a mother with a heart condition that puts me at a high-risk of COVID complications and a mother of a special needs child who gets very little out of online learning, I propose this answer: There isn’t one. Even as I write this, I have no idea what I will do. Maybe I will flip a coin and let fate – and George Washington’s head – decide.
What I do know is that the Facebook discussions, steadfast and determined and composed of people choosing one side or the other, don’t really honor the nuances of this argument. If it was just a matter of keeping teachers and students safe, the solution would be obvious. But, instead, it’s peppered with issues like the value of learning, the moms and dads who don’t have the luxury of staying at home, and the children in unhealthy family situations who rely on teachers to be their advocates.
It’s so much bigger than a “send them back” or “keep them home” battle cry. And, unfortunately, it’s a game that no one can win.