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  • Writer's pictureEileen Crawford

Returning to School Is a Dilemma, Not a Problem

According to Merriam-Webster, what is distressing or painful about a #dilemma is having to make a choice one does not want to make. It is a situation usually involving an undesirable or unpleasant choice. It happens when we are faced with two alternatives, and neither of them looks good. One example occurs every four years when a voter screams "I don't like either of them. Why do I have to pick the better of two evils?"

A #problem, on the other hand, is a situation that has a finite, definite solution, if only we can find it or figure it out. It is not a choice but rather a mystery that we must solve. Whether or not to have our children return to school in a building, or take classes remotely, is most definitely not a problem but a dilemma - two options that are frought with risks (of different kinds) that we definitely never imagined we would have to face. #Teachers are grappling with a different dilemma - do I go back in the classroom and assume physical risk, or face the economic risk of leaving my teaching position? This dilemma does not offer a clear, definite answer either. There are pros and cons to both alternatives, and they could not be more serious. Since dilemmas have no obvious solution, no one can say for certain what is best for someone else. That is why it is so astonishing when we see our neighbors screaming at those who have made a choice different from their own.

Here is the hard truth to the dilemma of whether or not children should return to brick and mortar schools: Both undesirable options have strong reasons for just WHY they are so undesirable. Look no further than the #AmericanAcademyofPediatrics to appreciate the difficulty of this decision. In June, the AAP issued its which correctly noted:

Schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being and provide our children and adolescents with academic instruction, social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition, physical/speech and mental health therapy, and opportunities for physical activity, among other benefits. Beyond supporting the educational development of children and adolescents, schools play a critical role in addressing racial and social inequity.

All true! We love schools and understand how important the structure, discipline and socialization they provide is to the overall development of children. In a perfect world, this would be the end of our research, but wait. That was June.

Now it's August and something else is true too. Though science continues to educate itself daily, we still know that there is much we do not know about the #COVID-19 virus and how to treat it. As schools have begun to open, we have seen some almost immediately close. Children CAN get the virus, and spread it to others, and immunocompromised loved ones are at risk.

Teachers and staff face the dilemma of whether or not to return to their jobs, parents are left with a variety of disappointing choices on how to obtain some kind of education for their children, and children are faced with how to adjust to school that - no matter what their parents decided - does not feel like school.

As millions of Americans are plunged into their respective school dilemmas, we are all challenged to think beyond how we would handle them. Instead of criticizing or dismissing decisions we disagree with, we need to lead with #empathy, strive for #understanding, and support with #compassion.

When this health crisis is over, how will we remember it? That we were all on different sides, some of us thinking of this as a health crisis, and others describing them as "living in fear"; or that we were all in a huge mess together. Some of us had horrific losses while others were barely affected, and yet we reached out to support and help each other through, all the way back to a new normal. Empathy. Understanding. Compassion.

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