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School Daze: the Craze and the Haze by Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates

As the summer comes to an end, we are starting the new academic year on college campuses and in school districts all around the country, and it feels very strange. It is unlike any other school year before. Parents, faculty, and students alike are excited for the promise of in-person learning while simultaneously feeling a sense of trepidation and hesitation about the prospect of having a fully “present” academic year without interruption. And yet, we are all making the attempt in the face of an increasingly ominous outlook on the horizon. The DELTA variant of the COVID-19 virus is escalating all over the country just when we are opening the country back up for indoor activities including schools, university classes, dinning, entertainment and sporting events. This fall is unlike any fall we have previously experienced. The lackadaisical approach to vaccinations combined with the fighting over mask wearing and social distancing have put all of us behind the curve rather than in front of it. Our children are now the most vulnerable population because, if they are under the age of 12, they are ineligible to receive the lifesaving vaccines that are now available to anyone over the age of 12. It is our children who are now being infected by and dying from this deadly and constantly shifting virus. And it seems we cannot come together with a consistent and comprehensive game plan to fight it because too many of us refuse to actually stop fighting the “principles and platitudes” and start fighting the virus itself.

We are hoping for a better school year than the “virtual year” most school districts, colleges, and universities had last year. And yet HOPE is not a plan! So, we prepare as best we can to mandate and advocate for fully vaccinated staff, faculty and students wherever possible. We sanitize our classrooms and common spaces, and excessively wash our hands in hopes of mitigating the ravaging effects of this unvanquished pandemic. We wear masks, whether or not we are vaccinated for the protection of those around us, IF we are indeed trying to bring this common enemy into submission. And even with ALL of that, there are too many people who are determined to fight every strategy designed to subdue the virus. Instead, they choose to fight the scientific evidence, fight against the use of vaccines that have been proven effective, and fight against the strategic plans that allow us to face the school year with some level of security in the knowledge that we will be safe and remain healthy. We do this so that our academic year will once again have some modicum of “normalcy” as we lean into both teaching and learning. It just seems too crazy to be true and yet it’s where we find ourselves. We are wading into the waters of uncertainty and skepticism as we approach this new school year. We are dazed from what we have endured over the past 18 months. We are concerned that the crazy inconsistencies across school districts, cities and states will once again disrupt our best laid plans and America will be shut down and pressed into submission once more by the unrestrained mutations of this virulent virus. The truth is that those concerns are not at all hyperbolic or hysterical but rather well founded and quite possibly where we will find ourselves not too many weeks from now.

Nevertheless, we must push through our fears and trepidations, our doubts and our disagreements. We must rely on our faith in people. We have to believe in the collective good sense of the majority of people who are struggling to help us all move towards the health and well-being, the good of will of ALL of us instead of the individual “rights” and meaningless platitudes of the few.

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