A sinking sense of deja vu struck this week.
Remember when it became official that our kids were not going back to school after spring break in March? Anyone who was paying attention to COVID-19 data knew that it was unlikely that schools would risk reopening -- cases were rising, and cities and counties issued stay-at-home orders.
But the realization that the school year had been cut nearly three months short with a slapdash effort to educate kids remotely hit like a ton of bricks, especially for those with graduating seniors.
Now it’s decision time for how to go back to school, so multiply that previous anxiety and sadness with unbridled anger.
Schools in the metro St. Louis region unveiled their plans for the return to schooling for the fall. Depending on the district, options might include in-person instruction, all online or a hybrid. Even if your child goes to school five days a week, we know a localized COVID outbreak could change everything.
In-school scenarios -- let alone distance learning -- will not be the same educational experience our children need and deserve. Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus infections continues to surge.
Beginning in March, students are facing at least a nine-month educational disruption. The loss of teacher-led instructional time, peer interactions and extracurricular activities is going to take a significant toll on our children’s academic, social and emotional lives. It’s not as simple as making up a semester’s worth of learning later. For some students, this pandemic will irreparably damage their life trajectories.
Here’s the blood-boiling, infuriating part: It didn’t have to be this way.
Look at what’s happened in other countries. We’ve had far more deaths, over 140,000, than anywhere else. The U.S. death toll from coronavirus is more than twice as high as the next-most-affected country, Brazil. We have the third-highest number of deaths per 100,000, according to Johns Hopkins data. There’s a reason Americans are barred from traveling into much of the rest of the world. They see us as disease vectors.
“The reality is this: Trump’s response to the pandemic, measured against the efforts of other developed countries, has been an unmitigated disaster,” professor Brian Klaas recently wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post. Compared with those peer countries with a similar combined population, the new caseload in the United States is roughly 50 times worse, he notes.
Much of the COVID-related death and destruction could have been prevented if our government had taken the decisive actions other nations did to contain the spread and if people had followed social distancing and mask-wearing protocol. Only in America did the simple act of wearing a mask to save people’s lives become a politicized debate.
Back when the pandemic began raging through the Western world, I thought that American children would end up in roughly the same place as other children in the developed world. But while everyone else listened to their scientists and medical experts, took aggressive steps to contain the spread and reopened schools, our leaders downplayed the risks, attacked experts and let the virus spread like wildfire.
Schools in countries that handled this far better than us have been open. American schoolchildren will be falling behind their global peers.
American children in areas throughout the country will miss first days of kindergarten and senior year and major transitions in between. Our children will miss time with teachers and peers and the countless moments that are crucial to their development and growth.
We know who robbed our children of once-in-a-lifetime milestones and nearly a year of education. The political leadership that allowed this virus to spread unchecked, ignored the scientists and doctors, spread misinformation, and delayed critical testing and contact tracing that could have slowed the virus earlier.
We will remember the elected officials who failed to protect us and wrecked a significant part of our children’s education. Elected officials have underestimated our rage over what our children have needlessly lost.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said on a conservative radio show recently, “These kids have got to get back to school. ... And if they do get COVID-19, which they will -- and they will when they go to school -- they’re not going to the hospitals. ... They’re going to go home and they’re going to get over it.”
He later said he “didn’t do a good job explaining his thoughts on schools reopening.”
Oh, we understood exactly what you meant.
And you know who won't forget this attitude?
Moms won’t forget. We can remember where every gadget in the house ends up, where the pants you haven’t seen in two months are put away and who made a passive-aggressive comment about a child at a family gathering 10 years ago.
Come November, we won’t forget who got us here.