“The purpose of a democratic government is to provide for the common good.” It is a sentence I begin with as an introduction to our government unit, at the beginning of the first quarter each school year. This year I struggled to finish that sentence. What does that look like in the year 2020? Does it mean re-open school buildings in an effort to reduce the educational equity gap? Or does providing for the common good mean distance learning is what is best during a pandemic that has already taken 480,000 American lives. And infected over 2 million American children.
During last summer the former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said, “Nothing in the data suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous.” But the data states otherwise. Medical studies have shown that children have carried large amounts of the virus in their airways. This summer hospitalization rates in children and teens increased at a faster rate than the general population. Unfortunately, re-opening schools have led to some spikes in COVID-19 cases across the country. What our government leaders should be saying is one unnecessary loss of life, is one too many.
Providing for the common good means that sometimes our freedoms must be curtailed (at least temporarily) to support the good of society. We make unconscious decisions for the common good every day. We obey the speed limit. We do not bring weapons onto an airplane. We pay taxes to support our fellow citizens. During a pandemic most of my fellow Maryland residents have supported the common good without hesitation. They avoid large gatherings, cancel that much needed vacation, and wear masks when inside a grocery store.
However, that capacity to support the common good must remain steady with regard to calls for Montgomery County Public School system to reopen on-site learning. The calls to re-open have produced discussions of liberty, equity gaps, and children’s mental health. Where does one American’s right to return to public buildings end, and another American’s right to not be infected with a potentially deadly virus begin? Which situation produces the least amount of trauma for our children?
As educators and parents, we have to accept the premise that we both want to do what is best for the health and safety of all, including mental health. But the metics, the science, the high number Montgomery County vulnerable residents who have yet to be vaccinated; those numbers do not lie. They tell the truth of a pandemic that locally infected 11,418 Montgomery County residents last month. Scientists have warned of an increasing number of deadly and contagious variants, that are already in the United States and spreading in Montgomery County.
But these are not just numbers. We love our colleagues and students, and it is unbearable to think about one being on a hospitalized when virtual teaching is a potential preventable solution. Hundreds of educators have already died of Covid-19.
History will have its eyes on the leadership's decisions with regard to how well we prevented loss of lives during this time. I do not think leaders who supported methods to prevent in-person gatherings and protect our health, will be regarded in the future with anything less than pure altruism.
Lynne Harris stated at the January Board Meeting that there is “potential irreversible learning loss.” As an educator; learning is never irreversible. We meet students where they are at each school year. We teach them to read a new language, create paintings using graphic design software, solve a quadratic equation, and inspire them to believe in themselves and their own abilities. I believe that our students are learning now during virtual leaching, and will continue to build on that knowledge and the new skills they have acquired every school year.
Some have stated there is a “pushback on returning in-person.” The only pushback has been from the pandemic and the deficit of mitigation efforts. Educators consistency and commitment to teaching has remained strong. The Board of Education discusses the metrics at each meeting. At times they seem persistent to return in-person to reduce the educational equity gap and at times they cite the data of the ongoing pandemic.
I have one message for the Board of Education. The best way you can show respect to those residents who are discouraged by the choice to remain virtual is by telling them the truth. Tell them the scientific truth, that we are too are disappointed at not being able to return in-person but that this a decision that is best for the health and safety of our students, residents, families, and educators, and that the common good prevails. As Mitt Romney stated on January 6, “That is the burden, and the duty of leadership.”