For the first time in nearly four full months, school is back in session in Southern Boone County. Whether or not you agree with the decision to send kids back to school during a worsening pandemic, one thing we should all be able to agree on is that being a superintendent of schools in the year 2020 is one of the most challenging occupations in America.
I do not envy for one second the position that Southern Boone Superintendent of Schools Chris Felmlee finds himself in right now. Mr. Felmlee, like his counterparts at schools throughout the country, is faced with a nearly impossible task of balancing the physical well-being of students with their educational and social needs—all while the novel coronavirus continues to spread like wildfire.
School officials are fully aware that there has been an alarming increase in positive Covid-19 tests in recent days and weeks. Some people dismiss this trend as a by-product of increased testing, but hospitalizations in Missouri and the majority of the country are also on the rise, which unfortunately means that more people are getting sick. Make no mistake, coronavirus is not going away anytime soon.
Sure, the overall death rate is very low percentagewise, but 130,000 mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters in the United States have died horrible Covid-related deaths in a little over four months—approximately the same amount of time that has passed since school was halted in the spring. How much worse would the death toll be if millions of children had remained packed tightly together in America’s schools during that time?
I believe it was the right decision to cancel school back in March when it became obvious that the pandemic was not going to suddenly disappear. Mr. Felmlee and his colleagues very likely saved many lives by allowing kids to shelter-in-place at home with their families while daily case totals grew exponentially throughout the nation. I commend the administrators and school boards that made the difficult decision to shut down even before many governors had the guts to do so.
Opening back up for summer school is a gutsy call, too, and rest assured that a great deal of thought went into the decision. Here at Southern Boone, every precaution imaginable is being taken to ensure the safety of kids and staff. From temperature checks and screenings outside of the buildings, to masks, social distancing, isolated groups, small class sizes, and disinfectant use indoors; preventing infection is the district’s top priority.
A close second on the list of priorities is making an effort to give children some sense of normalcy in their lives. Kids need to sit in their classrooms and learn from their teachers face-to-face. They need to feel how much their teachers care about them as learners and as human beings. Equally important, kids need interaction with their peers in order to develop and foster healthy relationships and social skills. And for some kids, school is simply the safest place for them to be during the day while their parents are at work.
After the amazing year I was having as the Primary School music teacher came to a jarring and unceremonious end back in March, I volunteered to teach during summer school in order to gain some closure and spend a little more time with my young friends. I had hoped that the pandemic would have been winding down by now, yet here we are in the middle of an alarming resurgence of the virus. I would be lying if I told you I haven’t had second thoughts about returning to the classroom.
I’ve had second, third, and fourth thoughts about it, quite frankly.
I have asthma. I guess you could say that I’d be in the “high risk” category if I were to contract the virus. Throughout my life, respiratory infections and allergies have triggered asthmatic attacks that require the use a rescue inhaler to open my airways. Although I wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my early 20s, I can look back on a lifetime of frightening episodes that were potentially life-threatening. For me, Covid-19 would definitely be life-threatening.
Despite the risk, I want/need to be at school with my students. While I’m sad that I won’t get to see last year’s second-graders, (who are now big third-graders at the Elementary School), I am excited to help introduce a new group of kindergarteners to the magic of Southern Boone Primary School. By observing all of the precautions the district has in place, I am confident that I will be okay.
After summer school ends and the start of the fall term draws nearer, I will keep a close eye on the progression of the pandemic, as will Mr. Felmlee and other officials who will have to make more extremely difficult decisions. Please show them some grace as they do their best to guide us through this crisis.