Parents across Vermont are wringing their hands, trying to figure out what will happen in a matter of weeks when the state’s public schools re-open to its 75,000 students.

State officials have said that mandatory face masks for teachers and daily temperature checks for students will become the new normal. Barring a resurgence of the new coronavirus in Vermont, students will begin reporting to school for the beginning of the 2020/2021 academic year.

But that is not sitting well with many, who are seeing record numbers of cases of COVID-19 across the nation. Debate over the risks the virus poses, and how best to fight it, were spotlighted in Florida after it shattered the record among U.S. states for the largest single-day increase, with more than 15,000 newly confirmed cases. Certainly, the threat – here in Vermont and elsewhere – won’t have abated by September.

A lot needs to be considered in very short order. The president and his administration are urging schools to re-open in an effort to get the national economy back on track. But public health officials are cringing at the prospect.

And so are educators – many who, in COVID-ravaged states – are arguing for another year or remote learning, and studying online from home.

On social media, concerns are quickly turning to anxiety for parents who are trying to figure out how to balance health, education and making ends meet.

One essay that is circulated widely, written by a teacher in California, where COVID has already guaranteed schools there won’t reopen in the fall

“We have always expected more of teachers than other professions. Doctors aren’t bringing their own scalpels to the operating room. They’re not expected to provide the medication for the patients that forgot theirs at home. … So this idea that teachers pushing back on the idea that their job is to just show up or shut up and deal with the ramifications of society’s collective failure to follow any basic precautions to keep the pandemic under control? That is deeply offensive to me.”

The writers demands that teachers be part of the dialogue in what needs to happen next.

“Teachers are asking the right questions. They are pushing back in reasonable and honest ways. Because they are the educators, and social workers, and bullet proof vests for the children of America, and they are making requests/demands to protect the children they’ve dedicated their lives to teach and protect. They are not babysitters. They are professionals who know what will work and what will not work,” she writes.

Meanwhile, a post from a Virginia public school group goes deep into what happens to the learning, when students are not together, and with a teacher in person.

The writer posits, “Let’s put aside for a moment the concept of adults effectively deferring this decision to children, the same children who will continue to stuff things into a full trash can rather than change it out. ... We step in and decide as parents, we don’t let them expose themselves to risks because their still-developing and screen-addicted brains narrow their understanding of cause and effect. We, as parents and adults, serve to make difficult decisions. Sometimes those are in the form of lessons, where we try to steer kids towards the right answer and are willing to let them make a mistake in the hopes of teaching better decision making the next time around. This is not one of those moments. The stakes are too high for that.”

This parent falls back onto the fact that it comes down to teachers knowing best. Parents can have a “gut feeling,” he says, but it says more to yield to the people who work with our kids day in and day out. And many of those teachers are not excited – for anyone’s health – to suit up, so to speak.

“Many teachers are opting to be remote. That is not a vacation. They’re requesting to do their job at a safer site. Just like many, many people who work in buildings with recycled air have done. And likely the building you’re not going into has a newer and better serviced air system than our schools. Of greater interest to me is the number of teachers choosing the 100% virtual option for their children. The people who spend the most time in the buildings are the same ones electing not to send their children into those buildings. That’s something I pay attention to,” he writes.

Every parent that has school-age children needs to think about (and talk about) what they want for the long-term health and education of their children, even if the two seem to run somewhat counter-intuitive.

And they need to talk to local school boards, and school officials to see what they are thinking, too. Ask them what teachers in your school district are telling them and advising.

As one parent noted, the risks are too high to gamble with our children.

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