Dear Secretary DeVos,
Threats are not helpful. Informing schools that they must fully open in person or risk losing their federal funding does nothing to solve a problem that is affecting every family in our country.
I wonder if you have taken the time to really listen to those involved in the question of how best to educate our children in the midst of a pandemic. Parents, teachers, aides, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers are just some of the people who are agonizing over the best way to provide a safe and productive school year.
Certainly everyone wants the very best for our children. We want them to get an education, socialize with their peers, profit from group activities, be challenged and inspired by conversations with classmates, gain independence by negotiating the structure and discipline of the school day, and benefit from the caring wisdom of teachers and aides.
Have you heard the concerns of teachers who already work in over-crowded classrooms? Have you imagined children jostling one another in hallways and playgrounds? Have you wondered how teachers will enforce any rules about masks or social distancing while trying to teach?
Anguished conversations are taking place in homes across the country. Parents want to get this decision right. They simply cannot be certain. None of us have experienced a pandemic before. The amount of conflicting and confusion information is overwhelming.
Parents have been valiantly juggling their work and parenting responsibilities. It would be easier to simply send the children to school. Most children are yearning to be with their friends again. But the tough job of being a parent is making hard – and sometimes unpopular – decisions. The stakes are very high.
That’s why simply threatening school systems with a lack of funding is ineffective. This is a time for compassionate leadership. It is time to recognize that compromises may be necessary. It is time to understand that one size does not fit all and that creative solutions will be necessary.
Parents and teachers don’t need threats. They whole-heartedly want to find a good, safe solution for their children. They need someone to acknowledge the challenges and to work alongside them. They need someone to listen to their concerns and to help discover new ways to meet this unprecedented challenge.
It may be that the answer to this dilemma is a moving target. The solution that works in the fall may not be practical in the winter. We are all going to need someone who has the flexibility to respond to this evolving crisis. My hope is that you, Secretary DeVos, can express your concern for our country’s children by offering that kind of leadership.
Rev. Dr. Susan J. Foster