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A return to school is about far more than just a child’s education

I’ve been reading perspectives on kids returning to school. For the most part, it has been entirely focused on the COVID-19 associated risk, with the points of view running from the concerned to the hysterical.

I’m not in the camp that believes COVID-19 is a myth and we all should just get over the hype. I do, however, believe that there are influential people willing to leverage anything available to forward their particular agenda. My real concern here is the holistic health of our children — physical, emotional, mental, spiritual.

I’ll leave the medical part to people trained, educated, and experienced in addressing the virus. For my part, I trust the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams.

There are three areas of concern that I think are being lost in the discussion:

• Schools are the primary source of food for many children

• Schools are some children’s only safe place

• The risk of some children’s education being irreparably compromised.

First, like it or not, school is where many children go to eat. Breakfast and lunch at school is their primary, if not only, food source. You can argue all the ways of how and why that shouldn’t be, but I’m focused on what is true instead of what we wish was true. Various groups (e.g., individuals, churches, the ‘Y’, and others) are doing the Lord’s own work by trying to stand in the breach on this, but it doesn’t reach every child affected. This is not imagined. Wherever you live, I promise you there are children in your community that are included in this group.

Second, schools are some children’s only safe place. We all wish every child had a safe, welcoming home where they are valued and protected. Sadly, this is not the case. Just like the kids that are hungry, there are children in every community for whom home is an exercise in survival. The threat may be physical or emotional, it may be a family member or “friend,” it may be in the house/apartment or an environmental risk (think sitting on the floor instead of the furniture to avoid errant gunfire). Whatever it is, home is not their safe place — school is their safe place.

Third, many children’s academic progress is already impacted, and another semester (or two) of the current arrangement will permanently compromise their chance for a decent education. We all are aware of the impact of summer vacations on most children. Teachers start each school year trying to appraise where their kids are academically, review and recover from where they were at the end of the previous year, and only then start out on the new year (in many cases already behind on the requisite skill measures).

Children all across the country finished the spring semester in some form of distance learning. A very small group of children, in select homes with every advantage, did fine and will move right along. Most children were impacted to some degree, and some children essentially lost a semester. Parents were stretched thin. Teachers trying to do everything via “distance learning” were trying hard. But it wasn’t the same as being in school.

The longer most children are out of school, the harder it will be to recover — some never will.

So, as we consider and discuss sending our kids back to school let’s have the whole conversation. Risk in life is never a single channel. There are always competing risks requiring some degree of flexibility and compromise.

Please keep in mind that for many of our children school is their only chance. That principal and those teachers are not just transmitting information. They are, like it or not, for many children, the only hands reaching out to help them move forward. Be very careful about denying them that opportunity.


Guest column submitted by Vicksburg resident Tom Tankersley.