Op-Ed by Patrick Henry – Democratic Candidate for Texas House District 25
First off, normal isn’t coming back. Our old normal is gone forever. Someday in the next two years a new normal may be established, but it won’t look like the pre-Covid 19 world ever again. We are realizing this, and it is painful and depressing. We are tired of uncertainty. And we are frustrated, and we hate what this is doing to our kids.
We want normal so badly for our children. We want them in school with their friends, learning together with a teacher, not a computer screen. And we want them running, playing, creating, sharing, singing, dancing, scoring touchdowns, spiking ball, marching, we want them doing all the things that made school great.
It isn’t going to happen this year.
We, as teachers, want normal for ourselves. We’re tired of teaching “virtual” students. We want to go to work in our clothes not our pajamas. We want to head off to work not worrying about who is caring for our children. We want our jobs back. We want our parks, our restaurants and bars, our theaters. We can’t juggle online learning for our 3 kids with a work-at-home-spouse and limited resources. Hell, we won’t even complain about school supplies, we promise. That isn’t happening either.
We are in the midst of an escalating viral outbreak in Texas and in many other states. Pressure is being applied from Washington and Austin to reopen schools. It seems the bottom line is the bottom line.
Get kids out of the house and parents back on the job. Yes, I’ve seen the pediatricians’ and psychologists’ articles on the need for children to go back to school, and I agree that this is damaging children socially, mentally, and developmentally to stay at home. What is the balance between learning, the economy, and the mental state of our children and their parents? I think I just created a three-legged teeter totter.
There may not be a good answer.
I participated on a zoom call with 7 HD 25 superintendents and my two (soon to be one) Republican candidates. We heard what they could say when they knew there wasn’t a public audience, and they are concerned. They are being told to implement TEA’s non plan “plan’’ and do it soon. Please don’t blame them. As we see the plans being rolled out and the dates established, we can see as parents that the normal we wanted for out kids isn’t in the plan.
Masks, social distancing, restrictions on extra curricular, no shared materials, lunch in the classrooms, 16 to a bus, staggered schedules, sterilization, all of the hundreds of details being considered to try and keep students and staff safe mean nothing will conform to our old view of normal. And the new normal won’t be cheap; it will require more staff, more room, more materials (none can be shared), more bus drivers, buses, miles driven, with the promise that most of us will safe, maybe.
Oh, and the extra costs will be reimbursed, right?
One of my concerns is in the choice to do online or in person schooling, and the potential to provide the “have nots” the potential for illness and death and the “haves” a safe way to continue to learn, or at least get credit. Our districts run 60 to 70% economically disadvantaged students– kids that need breakfast and lunch, kids that may not have the technology available or the help at home to use it.
I don’t want to see a plan that reduces the density of students on campus by income. Much of HD 25 is rural with spotty internet and cell availability. Yes, learning will be better with mobile hotspots and hardware loaned, but will we also make living in rural areas an issue on who comes to school and who stays home? Conversely, some of the online instruction last spring was horrible. Please understand I am not blaming anyone for this. We were all, myself and my wife included, thrown into an online learning mode over night without warning.
So, even now after months of questioning the plan, our physically fragile students will be forced online to minimize risk. Many of these students also receive special education accommodations and modifications.
How is that going to work?
I have a special education degree, and even I have lots of questions and few answers. Every time I think I have an answer to change the classroom arrangement, the kids go to the bathroom and flush and woosh, there goes my plan.
I am disgusted by the thinly veiled references to infection rates and severity. No country has sent children and teachers back to school with an the infection rate we have in Texas. You tell me what an acceptable rate of hospitalization and death is for your children. You tell me how many teachers we can afford to lose to keep things running. What will illness and deaths in schools and families do for learning and the mental health of our children? Are these really the equations we want from our elected leaders? Are these the choices we want forced on our school boards and Superintendents?
So, what is my answer? Time. Time to get it right. And time to let the current surge recede. I plead with Governor Abbott and Mike Morath to push back the start dates of our schools. Give us time. I plead with our senators and congress members to extend financial rescue to our workers and businesses. Give us time. I plead with the parents to be patient and hang on a bit longer. Let’s look at the positivity numbers in 3 or 4 weeks. Science tells us if we really stay home, we can significantly reduce the rates of infection. Give us time. I plead with our students, with our parents, with our businesses to try and understand. Give us time. For the sake of our children, our teachers, our school staff, please give us time.
Patrick Henry is running for State Representative for Texas House District 25. HD 25 encompasses Southern Brazoria County and all of Matagorda County. Patrick and his wife Kathy have been married 34 years and live in Angleton. They have two grown sons, Sean and David.
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