Commentary: Fear for schoolkids, hope for return to local control
By Cameron Vickrey
I am a parent of public school children in a pandemic.
Many of you are, too. And like me, you have been on the roller coaster ride the last 18 months. No school, virtual school, in-person school. Masks on, masks off, masks on again, at least for now. I have felt many moments of great pride in my school district, and I have felt moments of disappointment. Through it all, I have been extremely fearful and anxious.
I am also communications director for Pastors for Texas Children. PTC is a ministry and advocacy organization that supports traditional public education. We aren’t called “Pastors for Public Schools,” because we aren’t defenders of an institution. We love our schools, since most of our children spend a lot of their lives in those schools. Schools are where our children learn, grow and find opportunities to live the abundant life God has in store for them. Schools are where they navigate social challenges and learn to be good citizens.
But in the end, the schools themselves are the not the cause for which we advocate. It’s the children.
And because of that, PTC is fully pro-mask because of our current situation. None of us know what is going to happen with the legal battle over masks in school. I am rooting for the temporary restraining order to hold, and for universal masking until this wave is behind us.
My anxiety about going back to school is shared with every parent everywhere. We’re back on the roller coaster, but at warp speed.
Last fall, I thought we were heading into an absolute disaster. It was the scariest thing in the world to send my baby off to kindergarten in a mask during a pandemic. Yes, even I mourned the fact that my kids were in masks, especially the littlest ones — and I still do.
But the outcomes last fall surprised me. I was surprised by the spirit and grit of my daughters, who adapted so easily to school being an uncomfortable experience. I was surprised by the way COVID did not spread through their schools. I was surprised that despite warnings of great learning loss, my children all thrived, and the miracle of kindergarten did happen for my little one: she learned to read.
But the delta variant is different than last year’s COVID. I believe many children will get sick, and mine very well might. Far too many children at a year-round school already are sick. Believe me, I’m afraid. I’m angry.
I’m angry in particular at Gov. Greg Abbott. He has no proper power to truncate the legitimate authority of local communities to decide what is best for their own children. A time-tested conservative principal is that the government closest to you governs best. As our executive director, Rev. Charles Johnson, says, “Greg Abbott is a governor. He governs at the consent of the governed. He is not a king.”
I also wonder what I might end up being wrong about this time. What surprises await us? I will wonder about that before I lose my temper again. I will quiet my racing mind, and direct my attention toward hope and courage.
The health and safety of our kids is not a light matter. I’m not asking parents to be passive. But before we use our voices to be advocates, let’s wonder what we might not yet know; let’s be patient, and let’s remember that our school leaders are carrying an awfully heavy burden.
I happen to know several superintendents personally through my work, and all of them are looking for ways to do the hard, right thing and protect our kids. That is going to look different in every district, and I don’t always agree with their decisions. But again, what is it that I don’t know?
We need to come together if we are going to get through another tough school year. At the root of this, we are all afraid. Let’s be gentle with each other. We should all—Republicans and Democrats—ask Abbott to repent from his power trip and give back local control.
And one last request: Please pray for our children as they start yet another pandemic school year. Pray with me that they and their teachers will be kept safe. And that this will be a year of surprising goodness and discovery.
Cameron Vickrey is the associate director for Pastors for Texas Children.