In this time of highly contagious coronavirus, should schools reopen on time, after a short delay, online only or a combination of in-person and online learning?
Maybe you are a two-parent household without immunocompromised members. Maybe you have high-speed internet access and more than one computer that allows you —and maybe your spouse — to work from home while your children attend Zoom school. But you may be a family more vulnerable to the virus, and surviving another semester or year without school or daycare seems unimaginable.
If you knew someone was making a choice that would endanger your life or the health of your child, how would you feel?
Local public schools are being required to delay in-person learning until after Labor Day with added safety protocols and online options for families who opt out of in-person schooling. At the time of writing this, sustained spikes in infections have pushed hospitals near capacity. Fall sports and other extracurricular activities are in jeopardy. How regional colleges will handle classes is a mixed bag.
The Early Childhood Learning Center at my church serves about 300 children in a typical semester. About 25 percent come from families who need us to reopen because of work responsibilities. That is not to minimize the impact on other families who also rely on us to help preschoolers learn cognitively and socially and to provide breaks from nonstop parenting.
Teachers, administrators and other workers in schools are at risk in more than one way. If we have no students, we have no revenue to pay them, and the downward cycle in the economy continues because everything is related.
What to do? Spiritual values are part of the discernment process and should be stated. Among them are these:
1. We care about all human life as our highest value. Before we consider other factors, we should affirm this one. Being matters most.
2. We are our neighbor’s keeper. These issues can’t be decided solely on what we want or what we are willing to risk. They must also include what is good for others. If you knew someone was making a choice that would endanger your life or the health of your child, how would you feel? Religion operates with a bias toward the marginalized, weak and vulnerable who are disproportionately impacted by any crisis.
3. Economic and mental health matters too. If we consider only the first two, we might not open schools until the risk level is near zero after an effective vaccine has been broadly applied. But again, everything is connected, and there are costs we will all have to pay for not opening sooner rather than later.
Faith doesn’t make life easier, but it points us in the direction of what is good. When there are competing goods, it tips us toward our highest values for the sake of the common good.
GEORGE MASON is pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church, president of Faith Commons and host of the “Good God” podcast. The Worship section is underwritten by Advocate Publishing and the neighborhood businesses and churches listed here. For information about helping support the Worship section, call 214.560.4202.
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