As a parent of a student at Taft Elementary, I believe Lincoln County School District leadership needs to reconsider forcing instructors to return to the classroom to teach their distance learning classes.
With empathy to that leadership, let me first say I know that there are no good choices here. Just like a physician who is sworn to do no harm, district leadership must harm anyway. The question is now sadly and simply: where can you do the least amount of harm?
It’s here I think the district has failed, by failing to recognize that Lincoln County is a child care desert. Something which they surely know — and are consciously making worse.
Last week, the News-Times reported that even before the pandemic, there were three children for every available child care spot in Lincoln County. Now, the district is about to make that worse by forcing hundreds of more parents to seek out child care. This, for no sound pedagogical reason, as there is no evidence this will improve student learning.
Why then, when the district has the privilege of allowing its teachers to stay home, and thereby have a positive impact on the rest of the community, are they not doing that?
I want to emphasize my use of the word “privilege.” The district has the privilege of letting its employees work from home, unlike businesses such as grocery stores, restaurants and other places local parents work. Whether it is local government, legal firms, etc.: all of these workplaces have the privilege of employees working from home and should allow such. By not doing so, the district is abdicating its position of privilege and responsibility to its community, just as any similarly privileged employer would be.
Here's also the truth, however: In a county like ours, district employees are among the highest-paid people in the area. Privileged by their position in the community, most of them will find a way to get their kids taken care of. They will draw on more resources, call in more people, offer more money — whatever it takes. And in doing so, they will keep someone from a grocery store or a restaurant from hiring someone. Why would anyone work for $50 a day watching someone's child, when a teacher has the resources to pay them $75?
By that standard, what the district is doing is not just unsupported by pedagogical concerns, it is acting immorally. Is the district legally obligated to help the community? They are not. Are they morally obligated because they can? They absolutely are.
Again, I understand this is not an ideal solution. As Abraham Lincoln once observed, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” When — and I say that with my fingers crossed — the district offers hybrid learning in nine weeks, district leadership will have this same issue to face, as will their teachers and local parents.
But unlike this past spring and summer, where everything has been a constantly shifting morass of science and decisions undone by that science, everyone will have nine weeks warning that this change is coming. By then, both individuals and community leaders should come together to address this problem and how to fix it. The entirety of the school district, local government, major employers: everybody, must take responsibility for tomorrow.
That, however, is tomorrow. I'm asking you to do the right thing for the parents of Lincoln County today. Let the teachers teach from home.
Bethany Grace Howe, Ph.D. is a Taft Elementary School parent and former secondary teacher in the Lincoln County School District.