(OpEd By Jim Waters, who is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @bipps on Twitter.)
Michelle Bruner, a member of Let Them Learn in JCPS – a growing Facebook group of parents calling for the district to reopen schools closed since COVID-19’s onset in March – says her eighth-grade daughter, Sarah, thrives with the constancy offered by traditional in-person schooling.
“She needs the structure – going to school and going to class and having her teachers talk to her – even if they have to practice social distancing,” Bruner said in a phone interview.
Middle school’s tough enough with these kids losing out “not only on important instruction but this is such a developmental time,” she said. “My daughter’s whole world is changing; she was playing lacrosse and she was doing band and she was doing FCA and student council, and all that’s gone.”
Bruner doesn’t belittle the importance of coronavirus-related health but thinks balance is needed.
“Health is very important, obviously, but I think there’s other things important as well – the social aspects and mental well-being of kids, which is suffering.”
But it’s not just kids.
Bruner, who knows her way around Louisville schools – where she’s been involved for years as a member of the Parent Teacher Association and a School-Based Decision-Making council – says teachers tell her they want to return to classrooms.
A JCPS poll indicates 60% of families and nearly three in four teachers want to return to the classroom.
“When they did that poll, one principal told me she had more teachers who wanted to come back than even kids at that time,” Bruner said.
She also offered some commonsense ideas that speak to concerns shared by many parents, including pairing teachers who want to return with kids ready to come back to school while at-risk instructors focus on the nontraditional approach (NTI) online.
Bruner hopes JCPS finds ways to make the NTI program work better for students.
“When they first went to NTI at the end of the year last year, they got literally less than a month to figure out what they were going to do in a difficult situation no one expected; so I get it,” Bruner said. “That being said, it seems like there was all summer to work on it, knowing there was a really good chance we weren’t going back to school at the beginning of this year.”
“I was expecting it to be more like a virtual school when they went back – where you’re in class and your teacher takes roll and you’re held accountable and that kind of thing, but it’s not,” she added.
For now, Bruner plans on enrolling Sarah for her freshman year in 2021.
But she’s keeping her options open on how serious the district seems about reopening.
She emphasized that reopening for her doesn’t mean all students or teachers must physically return to make it work, or that’s in an either-or option when it comes to learning versus the health and safety of everyone involved.
Since, for example, Sarah has her core academic classes with the same 30 fellow students, Bruner wonders if schools could try different options, like allowing students to remain in the same room with teachers of the various subjects changing rooms rather than the current practice of requiring the same group of students moving to a different location for each class.
More parents like Bruner are signing up daily at Let them Learn in JCPS, which was created on Sept. 14 and has more than 1,200 members in fewer than 60 days.
These parents are on a mission to get their children back in the schoolhouse.
Most private and parochial schools reopened in August with no evidence the virus is being spread as a result.
A safe return can – and should – happen in JCPS, too.