A pandemic is not for the faint of heart. It calls on us to be our best selves, but can bring out the worst.
This has never been more true as it relates to the ongoing debate over how to reopen schools. It’s been a process marked by fits and starts, changing and opaque guidelines from county and state officials, and a virus that, despite the recent miracle of vaccines to keep it at bay, is not going away any time soon. The failure by political leaders in this state to prioritize education and the needs of students has been shameful.
We mourn the sense of order that has been taken from us, especially the school day routine that provided stability and connection. Distance learning is a poor substitute for the real thing. Hybrid models are only moderately more palatable, even while they are a step toward normalcy.
Many families have been surprised to learn over this past pandemic year that the Piedmont Unified School District cannot, in fact, operate with the independence of a private school. It probably bears repeating that as a public, K-12 school district in the county of Alameda, in the state of California, the school district is bound, or shackled, depending on where you sit, by a complex set of education code requirements that constrain it from going its own way. Add state and county health guidelines to the mix and it’s a miracle any public schools in California have been able to open.
Piedmont is a small town, one that prides itself on civil discourse and neighborly feeling — indeed civic connection is its bedrock. It’s what enables the school district to garner support for school parcel taxes year after year. Our sense of shared purpose is behind million-dollar bond measures to modernize and enhance PHS buildings, like Measure H1 and additional funding, through Measures G and H, to support PUSD teachers. The Piedmont Education Foundation’s annual Giving Campaign raises millions of dollars to provide other essentials and extras. That we regularly and collectively lift up our public schools is no small feat, and is only accomplished by, yes, sharing a common purpose and working together.
Regrettably, we have watched our beloved school community flounder over how best to reopen schools — even as we believe all stakeholders are sincere in their varied efforts to solve the vexing challenge of safely returning students and teachers to some form of in-person learning.
We’ve logged endless hours watching the thoughtful, but occasionally clumsy, school board grapple with the crisis. Elected officials should treat this crisis with the seriousness and urgency that it deserves, not with platitudes and rounds of congratulatory remarks that ring hollow to desperate parents.
We’ve marveled at the ability of PUSD administrators to work tirelessly and thanklessly to adjust to changing circumstances, but winced when they’ve made consequential missteps that erode confidence and trust, such as proposing an online learning curriculum from a third-party vendor as an instructional model.
We’ve been inspired by parents who’ve stepped up — signing on to serve as substitute teachers, for example, or exploring COVID-19 testing options to add another layer of safety. Many have delivered compelling and heartfelt messages on behalf of their students during public meetings.
But we are disheartened by divisive rhetoric on social media, where armchair experts hold forth daily. Science, of course, should guide us, but cherry-picking data serves no one. It feels good to vent in the comfort of a private Facebook group, but social media breeds discontent, and is never truly private. The lack of respect for those in the educational field that is voiced on that platform, in survey comments, and in emails to the school board and district administrators is breathtaking. It feels disingenuous to pretend that district officials, teachers, families — and children themselves — don’t share the goal of reopening campuses to full-time in-person instruction.
Teachers, who have borne so much this past year, have risen to the challenge of adopting new models of teaching. And yet parents are sometimes left wondering about a negotiating process that does not appear to prioritize student needs, as evidenced by the deficient middle school schedule.
Toss in a local paper that thrives on inflaming versus informing, and it’s no wonder we’ve landed in this sorry spot.
At the last school board meeting, CSEA President Nicole Straley talked about how many district staff feel unheard and underappreciated. It’s apparent that much of the community feels the same way, and that Zoom sessions and online soap boxes are no way to restore connection.
This is a call to our readers – and fellow citizens around town — to exercise humility and empathy, assume good intentions, and to work with common purpose as our school community struggles to find its footing in a challenging time. We implore everyone to set a good example for our children — the students who need so much right now. The upcoming school board meeting on March 24 is an opportunity to move forward with common purpose.
The Piedmont Exedra editorial team — Brigid Gaffikin, Holly Hanke, Mary Ireland, Nick Levinson, Julie Reichle, and Barbara Love — are parents of current and former PUSD students and have volunteered in Piedmont schools for over 20 years.
|UPDATE: Anonymous comments policy|
Since running this editorial on Friday night, we’ve received a number of comments, some anonymous. Although there’s a case to be made for anonymity, we believe commenters should be accountable and the debate should be transparent, so we will ban anonymous comments on all our articles going forward. We have been lax in following our own commenting policy HERE that requires the use of a full name. The anonymous posters have been notified and they are welcome to repost their comments with their names at any time. Thanks to everyone who is participating in good faith and using their real names. We will approve all comments unless they contain derogatory or offensive language.
1, 2, 3, 4 … I declare a thumb war
We also discovered that there was no limit on the number of times a reader could click the “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” approval buttons at the bottom of our articles. After our analytics revealed a few people were manipulating the system (300+ downvotes by one person alone! And 200+ upvotes by another!) we have disabled this feature. If we reinstate it, we will limit the number of times individual IP addresses can “vote” going forward.
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