February 21, 2022

We are coming up on the two-year anniversary of when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the U.S. – early March, 2020.  Remember when we thought the virus might fade away by May?

That unfortunately was not the case, and the virus has gone on to have a tremendous impact on all of our lives.  The loss of life affecting so many of our families has been tragic.  The job loss and economic instability has reshaped much of our economy.

COVID’s effect on education and the culture built around our traditional school model may be one of the longest-lasting impacts of the pandemic.

It has been dramatic to see the various questions unfold and watch how parents, teachers and educational administrators have handled the new stresses as they emerged.  The process has exposed fracture lines that probably were not previously apparent for many people about our educational process.

The questions over mask mandates, in-person learning, and our children’s mental health have brought parents to a new realization of how their children learn best and to a point where many have had to make tough decisions on how best to guide their families.  Some have shifted their children to new schools.  Some have gone to at-home learning with one of the parents now teaching the children.  These have been hard choices that have greatly changed the course of many a family.

Other realizations have come as the NCAE teachers union flexed their political muscle with state political leaders and parents watched in shock as some of the teachers associated with the union seemed to choose their allegiance to the union over the children they taught.

We won’t know the results of these changes for years.  We can only hope our children are resilient and somehow can bounce back from the interruption of their traditional pattern of learning.

The Brookings Institute recently put out a report“We are losing a generation” – which addresses the international effect of COVID “on children and youth who should have been in school but were told to stay at home.”  The report reminded us how education was dealt with as the pandemic unfolded.

“Nearly all countries decided that one of the main ways to fight the pandemic was to keep students out of school and universities. Public health experts had decided that keeping education institutions open would lead to further spread of the virus. To “flatten the curve” and prevent overcrowding of hospitals, kids would have to stay home.”

“Many European and some East Asian countries reopened schools relatively quickly, conscious of both the obvious costs for kids and the scant evidence of the benefits of the complete closure. But in many countries in South Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and even in East Asia, school closures were maintained for exceptionally long periods.”

The report goes on to describe the impact, that “by the end of 2021, school days lost were well above 200—that’s about a school year and a half. This prolonged interruption in learning could have grave long lasting effects, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.  Most of the impact will be on children and youth who happened to be between 4 and 25 years old in 2020 and 2021, generating a huge intergenerational inequality.

Parents in North Carolina sensed that loss of educational opportunity for their children and have become more politically aware as a result.  They have become more involved in various ways they hope will change the course of how politicians, the NCAE teachers union, and educators are dealing with the pandemic – speaking up at school board meetings and banding together with other parents.

Most recently, the removal of mask mandates has been the hottest topic.  In Wake County, parents got involved and protested at a recent Wake County School Board meeting.  The policy stayed in place.

Parents stepped up in Cabarrus County as well, protesting at a local school board meeting, some provoked by the story of a child who was apparently suspended for not wearing a mask.

As parents pay closer attention to the decisions that school administrators are making, a question has been building for parents of school children in our state and country as the pandemic has continued on and on and tough decisions have faced school administrators and parents:  “Whose children are they?”

That has become an important question both culturally – and politically.  If you remember, the 2021 Virginia Governor’s race was greatly impacted by Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s infamous statement during a gubernatorial debate when he exclaimed:  “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”  That sentiment took hold and was the catalyst that opened the door for eventual victory for now-Governor Glenn Youngkin.

Stay tuned for more discussion on this important question “Whose children are they?” and how it is affecting our children’s education as we hope to see changes in mask mandates in coming days and more opportunities for our children to go back to the learning atmosphere they need.  Has the curtain been pulled back enough for parents through the COVID experience that they will continue to become more familiar with what’s really going on in schools, how they operate, and what their children are being taught?  We’ll see.