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Oliver: Back-to-school equation this year proves more difficult than usual

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

Nobody said the decisions we would have to make during a pandemic would be easy ones.

Add the stress and fatigue brought on by months and months of change, and it’s not surprising that people are frustrated and having trouble thinking clearly.

Competing interests have to be balanced, and the conclusions we reach often aren’t perfect.

Take, for example, the debate surrounding sending our young people back to school in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

No doubt we all would have liked to have been done with the virus by now. Then it would be a no-brainer to send the kids back to school and merrily get on with our lives.

Yet, that’s not what we are facing. In fact, things seem to be changing on a daily basis.

After having our number of new COVID-19 cases go down for a while, our area and state are seeing increasing numbers, with our positivity rate going up, too. Yes, we’ve had more people being tested, but that isn’t the only thing going on.

We also entered Phase 4 of Gov. JB Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan, which allowed for more businesses to open, as well as to allow for larger group gatherings.

The result? Well, we aren’t Florida or Arizona or California, but we definitely are not going in the right direction anymore.

So the thought of sending children back to school isn’t as simple as it might have seemed a year ago.

We need to appreciate just how hard of a decision this will be for educators. We need to appreciate how hard of a decision this will be for each and every parent who has children who are of school age.

I’m not a parent or educator, but I know what agonizing choices I have to make as a caregiver for someone who is at high risk for the virus and being at high risk myself.

We are going to make decisions that are different from our neighbors’, simply because our circumstances are different from theirs.

That’s the thing we all need to appreciate when we look at what other families and other schools and other school districts are doing.

One district may decide that based on their school buildings and their students that it isn’t safe to bring students back, even on a split schedule and with fewer kids in the building. They may begin the year with remote learning and then see how things are later, perhaps moving to a hybrid schedule.

Other districts may decide to begin with a hybrid schedule and then leave open the option of returning to remote learning if circumstances later warrant it.

No doubt not every parent in either of those districts is going to be happy about the situation, but every family’s situation is different, too.

One family may have both parents who have to work, rendering the stay-at-home learning option a difficult one. Or there may be reasons why another set of parents would prefer that their child not be required to go into a classroom that they feel would be unsafe.

What the rest of us need to acknowledge is that each family has the right to make that decision for their children. We need not agree, but we have no business judging them.

After all, these are very difficult decisions. If we aren’t part of that family, it’s not our decision to make.

We’re dealing with a situation that we’ve never been in before. It’s new for all of us.

Let’s remember that we’re all doing the best we can. Kindness, understanding and compassion will make this easier for everyone.

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at jolivercolumn@gmail.com.

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