Editor’s note: This letter appeared previously in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
Things feel a little tense in Amherst right now. Amherst Regional Public School (ARPS) educators, and the union that represents them, are working on creating a return to in-person learning that is safe. ARPS families are frustrated, and some families and students are suffering, due to remote-only learning. It can feel like these two groups are at odds with each other. Here’s what I think.
Everything is a hot mess right now in our state and in our country. No one can say for sure that it’s safe for students and adults to re-enter school buildings, and no one can say for sure that it’s unsafe. And we couldn’t even agree on the definitions of safe and unsafe anyway.
What should be happening is that everything should be shut down, people should be paid to stay home, and small businesses should be given a safety net so they can survive. Then, the first things to re-open should be schools. And we should all agree that reopening schools is more important than reopening restaurants, salons, etc. and be willing to wait on the other stuff so that school buildings can be open.
But that’s not the world we live in, and those aren’t the priorities of the government we have, and it won’t be the case even after Inauguration Day. Given that, and given that there is so much we don’t know, I’m going to be more sympathetic to what educators say than what parents say right now. Educators are the ones we are asking to take on the risk. The way I think about it — when we look back on this time, which “side” will I wish I was on? I will be glad that I was on the side that supported teachers, even if it means my child spends their entire 6th-grade year learning remotely. I acknowledge my privilege in saying this — I’m working at home and my kid can mostly handle remote school on their own. For families and kids who need help, there should be creative solutions — there should be scaffolding and resources to help families get through this. But the solution shouldn’t be to force school buildings to reopen.
Jennifer Page is the parent of an APRS student, a UMass Amherst employee, and former Town Meeting member.