If it didn’t feel so normal, we might forget about the coronavirus and the impact it has had on our lives.
Gov. Jay Inslee has required state employees — which includes teachers and staff — to get a vaccination by Oct. 18.
These are not normal times, and the new delta variant of the virus reminds us how abnormal they are with its scary surges. The schools our children and grandchildren return to this fall will be noticeably different, even though we hope normalcy will soon follow.
Most schools started Sept. 1 or soon after. We took notice of all the school buses clogging the streets along with the students on the sidewalk, which reminded us to slow down and avoid the photo camera that is always part of an expensive ticket for speeding in a school zone.
In the intervening 18 months, classroom teachers have learned a lot about the students they are preparing for life. Many of the students and their parents have chosen to stay in remote learning as they tried different approaches to learning styles.
After those enforced training methods, each district has chosen a path they think is the best for their parents, students and staff. Some districts have used in-person classrooms, while others have used remote learning or a combination of the two. The younger students sometimes need more coaching and attention from classroom teachers.
Like a cloud hanging over all of us, these changes are occurring in a country split by political differences as simple as whether to wear a mask or get a vaccination, even though the experts tell us we should. If we are told by experts that we should wear masks or many people will continue to pass along the germs that cause people to die, why haven’t some people changed their behavior?
According to reports, some parents and teachers are reacting to the new mandates with protests like showing up at school board meetings without masks. And it is worse in the Southern states where the hospital facilities are not as good as they are in the West, Northeast, Northwest and Midwest. We continue to see many deaths that we are told could be avoided by masks and vaccinations.
For all the gloom, there is another generation on its way to learning from the teachers who are still there, doing their job and training that next set of kindergarteners who may set world back on its path to success.
But it won’t be easy. All students K-12 will be required to wear masks when in their classroom setting this year — and stay 3 to 6 feet apart, depending what the class is doing. With a class of little people, that is not as simple as it sounds. Visit a class of kindergartners or first-graders some time.
Some reports say the biggest challenge might be how to manage the casual time associated with lunch. Some districts are reminding parents to pack a cold weather jacket as schools are considering having lunch outside rather than in the cafeteria, even when the weather changes. Although it does feel like someone has been preparing us for the conversion to computer-based learning for several years.
Inslee is requiring all state employees under his control to get a COVID vaccination by mid-October or risk losing their job. But the edict also applies to employees in private long-term care such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities and adult family homes. Most two-year and four-year colleges will also require students, staff and faculty to be vaccinated to be on campus.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine joined Inslee and will impose similar rules on city and county employees, as have other states such as California and New York. Groups under other separately elected officials will be guided by the decisions of their elected officials. State Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley), a founding member of the Senate Freedom Caucus, has been vaccinated, but still uses the forum to score political points and called the governor’s move a threat to Washingtonians’ civil liberties while accusing Inslee of bullying and threatening state employees.
However, the Washington Federation of State Employees doesn’t have just protests to make their point, as they recently filed suit against Inslee to delay the implementation of his order until the full impacts have been adequately negotiated. Public reaction to the move may not be as supportive as it usually is for teachers. State Superintendent of Schools Chris Reykdal warned school districts they could risk losing some funding if they don’t follow the mandates.
For many reasons, despair would be easy to embrace. But the look of learning in a kindergartner’s eyes is all that’s needed for us to find reason for hope that this generation will be the ones to find the cures that prior generations didn’t. School districts will make the best decisions they can with the facts as they know them with a goal of keeping all the children under their supervision safe.
As one parent reportedly said after dropping off her daughter at school: “May this place hold her gently, teach her well and keep her safe.” A thought all parents can relate to in these difficult times.
Children adjust and each child will soon see their friends and establish new routines, as will we all. And we will be thankful for all the teachers that will be part of their day and what they will learn.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.