Back to School?
The Big Decision Facing American Families
David R Smith
“Pastor David, I’m really nervous about school starting back this week.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had that conversation with teenagers across two decades of youth ministry. But the person on the other end of this particular text message wasn’t a nervous kid.
It was one of the moms from our church.
Abrupt Endings and Reluctant Beginnings
The 2019-2020 school year came to a screeching (and unexpected) halt in March; no one was prepared for such an abrupt end to academic and extracurricular life. As spring faded into summer and the country began to heal, many looked forward to “getting back to normal” with the start of a new school year in August. However, the recent report of spikes in coronavirus cases across the nation has left many parents with one question: will schools be safe this fall? The inability of experts to answer that question with any certainty has led most of those parents to reluctantly wonder if their kids should even go to school when classes resume.
Without a doubt, there are a ton of challenges for educators and officials to consider between now and the opening bell. The biggest questions don’t have simple answers…or cheap answers. Adding to the cost and complexity of the situation are the myriad of “what if” scenarios no one can adequately predict or prevent. Here’s what we can safely assume for now: if schools actually reopen – and that’s a massive if right now – they will do so with a number of changes in place in the hopes of keeping kids safe. (By the way, much of this holds true for college students, as well. The university experience will likely be very different for students when colleges re-open…that is, if the colleges even survive to re-open.)
Too bad this problem can’t be solved like the threat of nuclear holocaust in the 1950s: just crawl under a desk!
There may be a bit of good news sprinkled in amongst all the doom and gloom. While it’s a far cry from an “apples to apples comparison,” educators and policy makers in the US have the benefit of observing the strategies (and results) of other nations that are wrestling with the exact same problem. Several countries across Europe and Asia have re-opened their schools to offer students a “full-time, full-capacity, in-person” education, a move many Americans would like to implement here in spite of the potential dangers. The safety protocols vary from nation to nation, but so far, those countries have “largely avoided coronavirus outbreaks linked to schools” which is terrific news for them…and maybe us, as well.
Making the Call
Plenty of agencies and individuals have voiced their opinions on the matter in the last few weeks. Several politicians, education specialists, and health agencies advocate for a full re-launch of schools in the fall while their colleagues call for an increase in online learning, hybrid models, or an outright delay of the coming school year. Ultimately, however, the decision will come down to what parents think is best for their families. So, as the leader of your family, how are you going about the decision-making process? What factors are you taking into account? As you pray and try to navigate the uncharted landscape ahead of us, here are three humble reminders to help you choose a way forward.
- Don’t worry. It won’t help. Literally, at all. So just don’t do it. We simply do not know what decisions will be made…nor can we know what the outcomes will be. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave some really simple, but wonderful, counsel: “do not be anxious” (Matthew 6:25). He went on to point out the obvious: worrying cannot add anything to our lives. He’s right, of course, so follow His lead in this regard. Don’t worry. Instead….
- Prepare now. Most of us were caught off guard back in March. (Only the homeschoolers were truly ready for the Apocalypse!) But that need not be the case this time around. Over the course of the next few weeks, have some conversations around the dinner table. If you decide to continue distance learning from home, work on putting a schedule in place that will guide your family and guard your time. If you think a full return to school is most beneficial for your crew, have discussions about how to stay safe and healthy. Make the most of these moments so you can make the most of the coming school year.
- Remain compassionate. Regardless of the decision made for your area, make sure you manage your words and your actions so you don’t undermine your integrity or your faith. Our best response is a compassionate one. It’s totally fine to disagree with the decision made for your area, but remember this: we never have Jesus’ permission to be a jerk. So don’t call those who want to re-open schools “idiots,” and don’t call those who want to stay home “cowards.” Be gracious to those around you and to those responsible for enacting policies. As a terrific byproduct, it’ll also set a tremendous example for your kids.
This will likely be one of the most important decisions your family will make this year. Pray together, talk together, and learn together throughout the process. That way, you’ll be positioned to make the best choice possible.
David R. Smith
David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.