Keeping Schools Open
The back-to-school season is a busy and active one for Pastors for Texas Children. Our ministries are in full swing to support local neighborhood schools and teachers. New partnerships between churches and schools are forming. And our advocacy voice is consistent in support of our children.
I have three kids who went back to school this week. I live in San Antonio, and you might have seen headlines about the legal back-and-forth of mask mandates here. Other places are going through a similar situation. Here's a rough timeline of the San Antonio story:
June 5: Governor's ban on mask mandates applies to public schools...Masks OFF.
August 10: San Antonio obtains a temporary restraining order from the governor's June ban on mask mandates. Immediately, city and county officials declared a mask mandate for public and private schools. Most districts announced compliance with the local mask mandate....Masks ON.
August 13: The governor attempted to strike down the restraining order in a court of appeals, but it was denied...Masks ON.
August 15: The Texas Supreme Court issued an emergency stay against local mask orders, ending Bexar and Dallas counties' mandates...Masks OFF.
August 16: A judge in Bexar county grants an injunction against the governor's executive order, and local mask mandates remain in place...Masks ON, mostly.
August 17: Governor Abbott tests positive for COVID-19. That's not exactly part of the legal battle, but the timing is worth mentioning.
At every turn of events, outcries and protests are heard from parents who disapprove of the latest ruling. Chaos and distrust abound.
Despite the confusion, there are a few things that PTC is quite clear about:
The governor has overstepped his bounds. He might have technical legal authority, and the Texas Supreme Court will likely interpret it that way, but his moral authority is long gone. It's ironic and unfortunate that he has stripped his local health departments of their ability to respond to local health emergencies. It is those local health departments, or better yet, independent school districts, that should be allowed to determine the appropriate health and safety protocols for their own context.
COVID-19 interrupts our children's educational development. Quarantines, sick days, too many substitute teachers, and closing down schools due to infections is not an ideal learning environment. We must be willing to do what's necessary to keep our children in school. Yes, that might mean making temporary uncomfortable sacrifices like wearing masks when community spread is high, or getting a vaccine.
We are watchful for any hint of private school voucher proposals from the governor or the legislature. The Florida governor took advantage of the masking confusion to offer vouchers to families who wanted a mask-free environment. With your help, we can cooperate with each other and avoid going down this road.
This is not the time to engage in finger pointing and pandemic blaming. We are all victims in this pandemic, whether physically, economically or mentally. None of us wants this to go on anymore. We are all afraid. We are all on edge. Let's not blame the unvaccinated, the pro- or anti-maskers, the migrants, or whoever the latest scapegoat might be. Instead, let's turn our attention to what we can do. What can we offer to our communities in the name of keeping kids in school?
As 2 Timothy 1:7 teaches us, "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control." Many people are preaching faith over fear in defense of ignoring COVID-19 safety recommendations. Rather, I interpret this as courage to do right thing, even when it's hard. We should make choices based on the power we receive from God to do things we don't like, because of love for our neighbor. Often that requires enormous self-control and discipline. Being a Christian means setting aside our own desires, ignoring our selfish instincts, resisting sin. In this case, we can rely on God to give us the power to do those things and not be fearful of what the future holds.
Here are a few things PTC has been up to this last week, and some things coming up:
PTC Co-Director, Dr. Charles Luke, wrote this great piece on a revived virtual schools bill in the second special session. "With changes occurring almost daily with how schools have to deal with the virus and state-level mandates about it, there is one thing for sure, and that’s that no one seems to know anything for sure."
Local churches and local schools are planning their partnerships for the school year. Here's a photo of one principal speaking to my church in San Antonio, thanking us for our ministry to them, and letting us know specific ways we can be good partners. If you want help connecting to a local school, we can do that for you! Email me for help: firstname.lastname@example.org.
PTC leaders joined with Austin Voices at a rally outside the governor's mansion yesterday asking him to rescind his mask mandate ban. You can see photos here:
Last, we are holding a breakfast celebration honoring Texas Senator Beverly Powell as a "hero for children." The breakfast will be held in Fort Worth at Texas Wesleyan University, September 28 at 7:30 a.m. We would love for you to sponsor a table to show your appreciation to Sen. Powell, or purchase a ticket to attend as an individual. More information here.