SPRINGFIELD – This week, I watched my three daughters head off for school after a long and frustrating five months away from their classrooms.
Like any parent, I felt a mixture of pride and apprehension as they went out the door.
My children are among the 10 percent of school-age Illinois youngsters who will be attending school in-person five days a week.
That number in itself is stunning. COVID-19 has so altered our society that 90 percent of the state’s pupils are learning in a different setting than they were just a year ago.
According to the Illinois State Board of Education, most public school students, 59 percent, will be beginning the school year in a remote-learning setting, usually over a computer. The remaining 31 percent will be learning in a blended environment where some days they are being taught remotely and other days they are in a classroom.
After months of studying the different educational paths, I have to concede that they all have drawbacks.
I don’t want my children — or anyone’s — to contract a virus.
On the other hand, I believe the ideal environment for youngsters to learn is in school with a teacher present.
That’s not such a radical notion. It is how students have been taught for centuries.
Before choosing to send my kids back to school, I reviewed their schools’ COVID-19 safety plans. Mask wearing and social distancing will be strictly enforced in the Catholic schools they attend. Desks will be disinfected between students. Hand washing augmented with hand sanitizing will occur multiple times during the school day.
Is it a risk-free plan? No. But it would seem the best of less-than-ideal alternatives.
Unfortunately, many school boards have focused on reducing liability for school districts rather than holistic solutions for the child.
We need to ask ourselves if children are safer in a structured environment such as a school or being home without parental supervision. Even when alternate adult supervision is available while a parent works, it’s often with an older family member such as a grandparent.
Elderly people are the most vulnerable group during this pandemic. We should be seeking to limit their exposure rather than increase it.
And let’s be honest; if they aren’t in school they will likely be somewhere in a group that may be a greater risk to disease spread.
And if students are left alone at home, while parents work, this too can be dangerous.
But more important, let’s not downplay the value of teachers in this equation. They are trained professionals who know how to impart knowledge. The more miles you put between the educator and pupil, the more difficult that becomes.
High-speed internet availability is far from universal due to family income or geography. The presumption that all students will have ready access to the internet is false.
There are no easy solutions.
But it is important to remember that youngsters will eventually have to return to a classroom. Parents, educators and school board members need to ask: What are the risks of not having them there now?
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.