There Are No Sides, Just Paths

I have been quiet the past two weeks. Honestly, I think my brain is on complete overload and overwhelmed by all of the opinions, conflicting data and options concerning the school year.

Unfortunately, schooling has become another addition to an already long list of divisive items accumulated in recent months. The notion that we can only set up camp in one of two sides is utterly and completely exhausting.
I have a high schooler, a middle schooler and a kindergartner. My oldest and my youngest attend private school and will most likely have the option to attend in person school in some capacity and we will be choosing to send them.  Our local public school system has decided that we will not have options or a choice concerning my middle son. He will be forced to either continue remote learning or I will un-enroll him and pick an appropriate homeschooling program for this year. I believe my children need to be in school. I also believe that someone else’s children may not need to attend in-person school this school year. Disagreeing with a choice for my family is not indicative of disagreeing with your choice for your family.  I believe in the right of each and every family to determine and choose what they feel provides the best education for their children.
Crazy, right?
I have zero opinion or judgment concerning how another family is choosing to school their children this year, or any other year for that matter. The same way I do not hold an opinion concerning your choice to breastfeed or bottle-feed, co-sleep or not, allowed your child walk around with a pacifier or refused to give them one. Your family, your choice, your decision. I follow this weird ideology of staying in my lane and minding my own business. I never have and never will attempt to force the choices I make for my family on another family because I fully understand the uniqueness of each family’s situation. While I am confident in my ability to make my own decisions, I am absolutely aware of the possibility I could be wrong. I do, however, have an opinion concerning decisions being made for parents and options being removed, specifically when the decisions have consequences and the consequences do not affect each student and family equally.
I have the luxury of not worrying about childcare. A luxury I understand many parents are not afforded and directly correlates to the reason working parents deserve a seat at the table. Unfortunately, their chair was ripped out from under them and they were told to stand. I am not interested in hearing an argument about schools not being responsible for childcare either. Let’s be honest, for many families, a parent’s ability to work during the day is directly related to their children being in school. It is not about free childcare for many parents, it is about access to childcare. It is insulting and arrogant to suggest otherwise and reeks of ignorance when many are unwilling to acknowledge the burden this presents to many families.
A response often aimed at those advocating for the opening of schools is  “I care too much about my child’s health to send them to school”, as if to insinuate a family needing two incomes or a single parent needing to earn a paycheck must clearly feel the health of their children to be trivial. A person advocating for a child’s education also cares about health, they also understand health is multifaceted and not solely defined by illness. Dismissing a parent’s concern about attempting to balance education with their ability to provide basic necessities, by suggesting they must not care about their child’s health, is not only privileged but cruel. A person’s health is comprised of many factors, food and housing rank pretty high up on that list.
This same argument was also applied early in the pandemic when small business owners were begging for the ability to open. Greed was being prioritized over human lives. It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now. Many are just trying to survive, simply a different type of survival. The decisions being made concerning closures of schools and businesses affect families differently. The problem is and always has been the removal of choice – the choice to work, the choice to send a child to school, the choice to be able to decide what is best for each of our families.
While some students can learn online, many children are unable to effectively learn via remote schooling. I encountered this in my own home. My high schooler didn’t miss a beat, my middle schooler needed limited assistance and my youngest struggled with all online instruction even with assistance. Those are three children from the same household with access to the same resources. Now, factor in children from different households with varying levels of income, education and resource accessibility to see how quickly we further ourselves from the idea of an equitable education.
Many special needs children have largely been forgotten or have become a complete afterthought throughout this decision making process, as well. The daily educational intervention and therapies these children depend on to progress have vanished. The schedule and structure at the core of their ability to thrive has been removed and seems to not be of concern to anyone but the parents, who continue to watch them regress and fall further behind. Their health matters also and they too deserve a seat at the table but they also have been left standing.
Teachers, I do not envy your position. I have many friends whom are teachers and most want to get back to the classroom. If you are uncomfortable returning, you should absolutely have the choice not to and the only person making that decision should be you. It seems an effective solution would be for teachers wanting to return to the classroom to teach the students also wishing to return and the teachers choosing not to return to handle online learning for the students remaining home. I am unsure why this logical approach has never been offered. Recently, the teacher’s union has discussed the possibility of a “Safety Strike” for teachers. Educators have been undervalued and underpaid for years and to be frank, your safety has been jeopardized long before this pandemic. I do not recall the Teachers’ Union threatening a strike as the violence against teachers from students has continued to increase inside schools in past years, while also being largely ignored. In fact, many times those students are allowed to return to the same classroom with the very teacher they have assaulted. Why was your health and safety not made a top priority in the past? If the Teachers’ Union is requiring strict safety measures to prevent infection, what safety measures are they requiring to protect teachers from suffering from verbal and physical assaults while on the job? Physical safety is not just a matter of protecting from infection, it is an inclusive term requiring more than one protection and you should be demanding it, in its entirety.
The safety and health of the grocery store worker checking me out since March and the millions of other essential workers that have continued to work throughout this pandemic to collect a paycheck are also of importance. Unfortunately, I have not witnessed a similar public outcry. The risk to these workers and their families exists also. The risk is present for anyone working outside their home right now. It is a risk that will not be disappearing anytime soon. It isn’t fair, it is simply the current world we live in and will be living in for the foreseeable future. Exactly when would it be deemed safe for schools to reopen?
My county does not have a casino, however, the city and county that border mine do. They have both announced that schools will continue online instruction through January, yet their casinos remain open for business. We need to ask ourselves if our leaders genuinely have the best interest of our children at heart when it is deemed important for a gambler to have a casino to gamble in and our children are not afforded a school to learn in. Couldn’t gamblers have the same experience through “remote gambling”? We must ask questions and demand answers when the rules are contradictory and are not applied across the board. We cannot tolerate a haphazard approach applied out of political convenience.
With so much conflicting information every day, one thing is for certain – not one of us knows, with certainty, what the right answer will be. Not one of us. Not me, not you, not the politicians, not the school board nor the doctors with conflicting opinions. I have questions, a lot of them. The majority of them remain unanswered. My hope is we never stop asking questions and demanding answers even when it threatens the validity of what we thought to be true. As parents, we all have the common goal of simply wanting the best for our children. Our goal is the same and there should never be sides, just varying paths of travel.
May we always be mindful of our common desire and never be willing to block or sacrifice another person’s path, just so we may comfortably walk our own.

Published by shannonarmenis

Full-time mom, part-time writer. Serving up thoughts on parenting, life and love in between forgetting to fold laundry in the dryer, threatening to take away Ipads and looking for my patience.

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