Parents Talk Back by Aisha Sultan

Reflecting on a Premature End to School

I knew that our kids would not be back in school this year once they were out for spring break.

But hearing Missouri Gov. Mike Parson make it official recently still hit hard. Our schools will be closed for the rest of the year, and students will only have access to online learning.

Governors have made the same difficult decision in states across the country.

I knew this was coming, and I still wasn’t prepared for how crushing it felt. The emotions around it are multifold.

I’m worried about kids who won’t be getting the meals they need for months, especially since meal service provided by bus has been discontinued in several districts. Food pantries are trying to keep up with skyrocketing demand and dwindling reserves.

I’m scared for kids who live in abusive homes, who have no temporary escape. Parental stress and anxiety make abusive situations worse, and everyone is feeling the strain of being locked in.

I’m heartbroken for the high school seniors who won’t have a prom or graduation, or one last goodbye with all their teachers and friends. Their disappointment is completely valid.

I’m anxious about how far behind kids without access to internet, devices or parental supervision will fall. These months will widen the opportunity gaps children from underserved communities already face.

And I’m sad that all our children have lost part of their childhood. I had been warning my children for the past month that it was unlikely that they would go back to school. Secretly, though, I think we held a flicker of hope in our hearts that it might happen -- even if just for a day or two, to get some closure on the year.

I asked my son, a freshman in high school, what he thought about the news.

“I’m not really surprised,” he said. “I guess it’s good they are doing it.” He knows the importance of “flattening the curve” because we’ve been talking about it incessantly.

Of course, this was a necessary and critical decision to save people’s lives and prevent overwhelming the medical system. Our stiff-upper-lip child gets that. But his voice gave away the disappointment I knew he must be feeling. When his tennis season was canceled before it even began, we congratulated him on an undefeated season, and he actually smiled at the lame joke. But I wish I could have watched him play, even just once.

Then I asked my daughter, a junior, how she felt.

“I don’t think anyone is adjusting well to it,” she said. “I feel bad for our teachers because they had to switch to (online learning) so quickly. As a student, I really miss my friends and activities I do outside of school. I even miss just being in and learning in the classroom.”

That part -- just sitting in a classroom, learning from the people around you -- they know we can’t give them at home. I wonder what conversations, thoughts and ideas they won’t experience. Education is a life-enriching experience, and that learning happens from more than just assignments and reading. It happens in the interactions with teachers and coaches, between peers, and even in social settings with friends. The life experience of interacting with people in various roles and from different walks of life is how our children practice vital social and emotional skills and gain knowledge during these formative years.

I’m sure we will all get through this the best we can, and I hope school leaders will work hard to help children in the most difficult circumstances.

But I’m taking a moment to grieve the loss of these months of learning, friendship and memories for our children.

It’s a part of their childhood we can’t replace.