COVID-19 has changed the face of planet Earth. This virus has impacted the lives of every human being in one way or another. As of the third week of July, North Carolina has lost 1,698 people out of over 105,000 confirmed cases and almost 1,500,000 tests. Over a thousand people are still in the hospital. North Carolina is in the top 20% of total cases in the United States. Several states have issued travel bans or restrictions for North Carolinians.
Daily routines are at a standstill. It’s like that very first episode of the Twilight Zone. “Where is everybody?” Places of business have been closed. Dining options are limited. No movies. Playgrounds continue to be inaccessible. Travel is restricted. And the schools have not rung a tardy bell since March 17, 2020. It’s been over four months since I’ve heard a student say, “Hey, Ms. Cooke, can you help me?” Okay, several students at one time said it. But I can’t tell you how much I miss it. How much we all miss it.
Students continue to be deprived of their educational opportunities to forget their homework in their lockers, scarf down lunches because they were too busy talking or hurry to make it to practice on time. Seniors were stripped of graduation ceremonies. Kindergartners didn’t sing that cute little song with the gestures at the end of the year. Teachers didn’t get the end of the year send-offs from students they will never forget. I even have a coworker who planned to retire tell me she has to come back because it didn’t end right. Let’s face it, the whole thing (although necessary) sucked. I can’t think of a more tragic event that broke the hearts of students and educators all at once. Yes, it’s history. But not one anyone is fond of.
And here we are at the very beginning of a fresh and brand-new school year, and the issue continues to take precious experiences from us. Most school districts will begin the 2020-2021 school year the same way 2019-2020 ended … virtually. Not in a brick and mortar building with a flag raised high and long carpool lines.
Governor Roy Cooper announced on July 20, 2020, what schools will look like in Fall 2020. A lot of people were upset, and understandably in my opinion. There is no safe option. No guarantee that would keep our most precious assets safe. No plan that would keep teachers and school staff safe in a normal educational environment. I can’t imagine being in his shoes. He knows we all want the school doors open. He also knows this pandemic is not going away quickly enough for that to happen. So, what was he supposed to do?
Plan A probably won’t happen for a long time. It breaks my heart to even acknowledge that. I am a traditional teacher in the sense that I want every kid in every class every day. It has to happen. For example, our special needs students had support at school that is difficult to receive at home at a time like this with social distancing being vital. Students facing trauma or lack of food need a safe space and a bus driver to give them a high five that feels like hope or relief. All students need the social aspect of seeing friends. But that reality may be long gone for the time being along with individualized attention and small group closed instruction.
Plan B is a reduction in students being in the classroom. Almost like a compromise. That would be the safest in a building, but of course, no guarantee. Schools have strict and necessary requirements to have in-person school experiences. These guidelines are necessary to slow the spread of the virus. Notice I said slow and not stop or contribute to. It is impossible to identify students or faculty members who are asymptomatic. They could still pass on the virus in this scenario and endanger others who go home to high-risk family members. As I stated before, I want to see my students, but I don’t want to take the chance of getting my daughter or mother, who are both in high-risk categories, sick.
So far now, it seems, a majority of school districts are going with Plan C. I’ll be honest, I signed my girls up for virtual learning at least for the first semester. Even knowing how one of them struggled with this format, I couldn’t take the risk. Several other parents I talked to agreed. I will have to do my job of supporting my students and my daughter through this again. This hurts me because I know there are other students out there like I said before who need school and not just for the academics. Not to mention students and parents who don’t have access to reliable technology, internet service, just to name a few of the inequities that society has yet to resolve. Food scarcity, a trauma in the home, therapies, all of these are addressed by educators, social workers, nurses who can’t effectively do their jobs through digital remote learning.
So, PLAN A is obviously not going to happen. Plan B does not serve the students 100% of the time. And Plan C is completely void of the physical connection needed. What can we do? Simple. WEAR A MASK! We don’t have a vaccine. We don’t know how long that will take. COVID-19 is here for an uncertain amount of time. The situation is not hopeless. It just takes all of us. Even if you don’t have school-age children your choices play a part in the chain reaction of the ability to eradicate this virus. Therefore, recognize it’s not about individuals. It’s about students needing school. Essential workers needing to get back to work. Yes, it’s about getting the economy back on track. It can’t be forced, however. And not one more life should be lost because of it.
NaShonda just recently finished her 20th year teaching in North Carolina Public Schools. Arriving by way of Pennsylvania, she enjoys working with students of all ages and abilities. She’s been featured in TIME magazine for her continued advocacy to improve public education. She lives in Wake County.