There is a Senegalese proverb that says, “Haste and hurry can only bear children with many regrets along the way.’’ This statement speaks to our current situation as we all face the possibility of heading back to school too soon.
This is normally a time of the year when educators rev up for all the excitement the start of a new school year can bring. When you take into account how the previous school year ended mid-March, with a sudden closure for everyone’s safety and health, our students and educators didn’t have a proper ending. We stayed home, switched over to distance learning with the tools we had, and we made it work. We learned there were specific actions we could take as a community and state to control the virus.
Gov. Kim Reynolds, along with the Department of Education, has provided school districts with little to no guidance. What’s further disappointing is the lack of local control over the decisions in which a school district serves. Note the change of the requirements needed to get a substitute authorization. There is a nationwide sub shortage, and reducing requirements during a pandemic demonstrates the expectation that licensed educators are at a great risk of not staying healthy. So the question remains, is it safe to return to our schools?
Decisions like these must be guided by data. Health experts indicated during the spring that we needed to flatten the curve in order to safely resume our lives. We have yet to reach that milestone. The Cedar Rapids Education Association believes that the COVID-19 pandemic must be under control so it’s safe to return to school.
Not having met this standard, there should be a consideration of a different way to start the school year. Ideas such as a soft start, full hybrid, remote/virtual learning, delay the start of the school year, or a totally new plan. There isn’t a perfect answer, but the time is now to revisit the current thinking. A safer start can allow the minimization of the virus being spread throughout our schools.
A return to learn plan must also ensure that all precautions are in place to accommodate students and staff to keep the virus under control. Most of the data around the virus has focused on adults. Late spring/early summer virus spread demonstrated that children’s infection rates and symptoms needed further study. This data interpretation and release still is in its infancy. It deserves more attention to know exactly what is needed to help with controlling the spread of this virus and asking students to re-enter our schools.
Planning is the cornerstone of what educators do. We have to think about the contingency plans that will ensure all students are learning. Our plans must take into account the various needs of our families who reside in our community. We know that not all families will be able to support their children in either a face-to-face or a remote learning environment. Students, families, and educators will need training and support while we wait and plan deliberately and carefully for a safe way to return.
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Rushing to provide a sense of normalcy at a time when things are far from it isn’t worth the cost of risking the health and safety of students, educators, their families, and ultimately our Cedar Rapids community. We can do the right thing and have no regrets.
Eriece Colbert is vice president of the Cedar Rapids Education Association.