There are all sorts of mixed feelings about Oregon's long-awaited return to classrooms.
Some believe it's too soon. Most educators haven't been vaccinated yet, and virologists remain worried about the potential of another surge driven by more contagious variants of the coronavirus against which vaccines may not be as effective. While instances of severe illness in children who contract COVID-19 are rare, they're not unheard of, and it appears children can still spread the virus even if they don't have severe symptoms.
Others believe it's been too long already. Distance learning has been a tremendous struggle for educators and families alike, and education experts are worried that many students are slipping through the cracks, with long-term effects we may not realize until much later. There's a reason schooling is mandatory for children, after all. Our kids have been missing out on socialization and activities. COVID-19 has a disproportionate effect on our elderly population, and public health officials agree the responsible thing to do is focus on the highest-risk groups, not create needless barriers for others.
While we're not convinced that it is the best use of a limited vaccine supply and resources for administering it to give educators priority over older adults, and we fully understand and sympathize with the concerns of families who aren't ready to send little Ethan and Emma off to school, we have to say: It's nice to see the happy faces of Grant Watts and Warren elementary school students and teachers, finally back together in the classroom.
This return to school in Scappoose isn't yet universal, with just grades K-3 being invited to return so far and many school families still choosing to continue with comprehensive distance learning. And the neighboring St. Helens School District is still weeks away from its first back-to-school day.
Caution is understandable. In fact, it's more than understandable — it's important.
Read our Feb. 8, 2021, story about the first day of in-person classroom learning in the Scappoose School District.
The process of reopening classrooms and reuniting students and teachers is complex, considering the logistical difficulty of vaccinating all educators, not to mention the health and safety protocols that must be observed to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak sickening families and school employees and putting us all back at square one.
School districts have been given leeway by Gov. Kate Brown, the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Education to craft their own reopening plans. That's a welcome change of pace after months of state officials telling local leaders what they can and can't do. We've written in these pages before about the importance of following public health guidelines and doing your part to "flatten the curve," but there's no question that many Oregonians have been chafing under the weight of the state's top-down approach, and there's no doubt that approach won't serve Oregon well as we finally turn the tide this year against this virulent plague, community by community.
And our school districts, to their credit, have extended that flexibility to families as well. They have been clear that returning to the classroom is voluntary, and comprehensive distance learning will continue both for older students and younger students whose parents aren't yet comfortable with the idea of them sharing a classroom with other people. This is an intelligent, compassionate approach that accommodates the disparate needs and wishes of families while also keeping class sizes manageable.
So, in honor of our young learners — some of them now back in classrooms, others continuing to learn from home — we're taking this opportunity to remind everyone of the "golden rule," the one our kindergarten teachers told us and the one your kindergarten teacher undoubtedly told you: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
This is a time for understanding and patience.
Being unable to send their children off to school has been a great hardship for many families, for many reasons. Perhaps theirs is a single-parent household, with a working mother or father who has had to find a new job or make special accommodations to be home during the day. Perhaps both parents need to work, because neither has a high enough income to support the entire family. Perhaps one or more of their children has special needs. Perhaps there is a language barrier. Perhaps they don't have a stable internet connection. Perhaps they are homeless.
And for many families, the idea of returning to school now is frightening. COVID-19 is often more severe for people who have preexisting health conditions, including so-called "invisible illnesses" like diabetes and heart disease. Some children live with their grandparents, who may be at greater risk for severe illness. Some parents may work in high-risk environments and worry about potentially being the source of an outbreak, if their child becomes infected and unknowingly spreads the virus at school.
Local educators have shared their own mixed feelings about school reopenings with the Spotlight, in recent weeks. Many of them are thrilled to be heading back into the classroom, getting to see their students and teach them in person. Some aren't worried about COVID-19. Others admit to having at least a bit of trepidation, knowing that even if the risks are managed, they are potentially exposing themselves by reporting to work in person instead of working from home. They are excited and apprehensive at the same time — and if that seems like a contradiction, just think back to how you felt on your first day of school.
The golden rule comes from the Gospel of Matthew, although sayings like it can be found in many religions and cultural heritages. Another saying from Matthew, often quoted: "Judge not, lest ye be judged." In Christ's teaching, it is not for us to judge our neighbor. We cannot always know their circumstances, nor ever be certain we understand them completely. Rather, we should show the same compassion and tolerance we would like them to show us.
Let's all follow the golden rule and respect one another.
You may think wearing a mask is silly, especially if you've already had COVID-19 or you've already been vaccinated. But when you wear a mask in public, whether or not you think you need one, it makes other people feel safer and more comfortable — so wear the mask.
You may think others are taking too big a risk, or that they're being too cautious. Judge not. Extend to them the courtesy you would expect from them.
We will get through this pandemic. The cavalry has arrived. There is light at the end of this tunnel. Let's be neighborly while we get through this, as we will be neighbors after it.
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