The COVID Classroom Is Stressful. But Don’t Blame Teachers, Blame Your Leaders.

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By Kim Mackey

December 1, 2020

A North Carolina educator says too many leaders are asking schoolchildren to offer a false sense of normalcy. 

When we expect more from children than adults, it’s time to re-evaluate our approach to the pandemic.

Masked as exaggerated concerns over learning loss, sudden alarm among the privileged over the hardships of children in poverty, amplified mental health challenges (remember when teachers marched in 2019 for more student support staff?), and lack of broadband (a problem as old as the Internet), society is asking its children to offer a sense of normalcy.

But children should neither set the example for nor sacrifice more than antsy adults.

In schools we expect children to wear masks and socially distance all day, yet elected officials and other adults flaunt that rule with an adolescent display of selfishness and vanity in much shorter and less necessary outings. 

If my kindergartener and third grader can adjust to school on a screen, surely adults could temporarily adjust to socializing on a screen to cut down on their in-person contacts contributing to broad community spread of a novel virus.

I’ve seen fellow parents post concerns about potentially losing their job or leaving the workforce because they’re having a hard time working from home while their children learn at home too. Perhaps it would be productive for employers to show grace with family-friendly policies during a pandemic instead of parents fearing for their jobs because they want their kids to have limited exposure too.  The stock market might be setting new records, but parents are struggling to meet their children’s needs.

Meanwhile, where are our leaders?

Absent at the top?

The North Carolina General Assembly has met for two days since the school year began.  Special sessions have been called for hurricanes (rightfully so). But with coronavirus infecting more than 364,000 North Carolinians, with more than 2,000 in the state currently hospitalized by the dangerous virus, this disaster apparently doesn’t warrant special attention. 

It’s ironic that while NC Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and Speaker of the House Tim Moore call for educators to return to classrooms, they’re truant in their support for students and their families. 

The “something is better than nothing” philosophy that dominated paltry raise proposals for educators has now translated into token one-time checks instead of more substantial support as our state navigates a pandemic.  

Berger and Moore will crow about their benevolence in sending families $335 to help cover the cost of remote learning (or perhaps a night out on the town during a pandemic as Sen. Berger suggested) but are quiet about the $85 million in unused private school vouchers that could have gone further in supporting families or meeting DHHS school reopening requirements

They also prefer you look the other way instead of asking for support from the “rainy day” fund that was built in part on shortchanging our students.  But they’ll wag their finger that schools should reopen without that support.

Since May the HEROES Act, a federal relief bill that would in part offer $13.3 billion to state and local government relief in North Carolina has been sitting ignored by the US Senate.  That’s what happens when folks who don’t believe in government hold power in government.  Both of NC’s US senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, continue to oppose this aid for our state.  Sen. Tillis could have been held accountable for stonewalling support for our communities but NC just re-elected him.

On President Trump’s watch, our country’s handling of the pandemic has been a global embarrassment.  The US has 4% of the world’s population but 18% of its COVID-19 deaths.  Almost one out of every five worldwide COVID-19 deaths has been an American death.  Despite his failure in leading an effective coronavirus response, North Carolinians will give Trump their Electoral College votes.

Demonizing schools has become the default coping strategy of politicians, business leaders and the general public instead of holding those with power accountable to improve conditions.  It’s no wonder those same politicians and business leaders fan the flames in scapegoating schools.  If everyone’s pointing at schools, nobody’s pointing at them.  

But blaming schools for society’s leadership failure is like faulting a tourniquet instead of the person holding the bloodied sword.

For all the talk of testing, accountability, and community responsibility we place on our schools, those standards sure don’t apply to our elected leaders.  Instead we’ll resort to asking more of our children and a profession where higher traffic and smaller spaces greet 25% of its workforce in the high-risk category for serious illness if they contract COVID-19.

For too many folks, it’s easier to tell Mrs. Robinson to get back in the classroom despite her high-risk factors, or to tell Jackson to eat lunch unmasked with his classmates in an indoor setting that exceeds the allowed capacity in other spaces.

It would be more productive for them to demand better support from elected officials like Tillis, Berger and Moore.  North Carolinians just re-elected them to send them back to their jobs.  It’s past time they get to work serving the people of our state.


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