A NUMBER OF you might not remember September 11, 2001. Tragically, a large number of people lost their lives that day, and the resulting security measures required to mitigate the risk of another such incident impacted parts of all our lives permanently. But as hard as 9/11 was to accept, it brought some positive changes in American attitudes and in our level of patience with one another. There was a real unification of purpose and priorities.
Today we’re dealing with a significantly larger tragedy, both in terms of number of deaths and in its impact on every part of our lives—our work, our places of worship, our friendships, our entertainment, our schools. We don’t know whether these changes are permanent or temporary, but we do know two things: One, the priority for schools has to be the safety of their students, teachers, and administrations. And two, COVID is not going away and we need that unification of purpose and priorities that got us through almost 20 years ago.
Everyone—everyone—wants the schools to open and for students and teachers to go back to the pre-COVID way of learning: together in the classroom. But for many schools, that scenario can’t ensure everyone’s safety. Many teachers are afraid for themselves and for those family and friends they come into contact with, and many parents are afraid for their children and for their family and friends.
Parents have to work, and children have to learn, but we all need a limited number of people with whom we come into contact inside our “bubble.” That probably means we’ll need a spirit of collaboration and cooperation beyond just our immediate households. We’ll need to rely on larger family units, in which grandparents take care of the younger children who can’t be in pre-K or after-school care so parents can go to work or do their work remotely. Students and teachers alike will have to be patient and rely on virtual instruction and learning techniques.
We must have confidence that we’ll have a trusted vaccine eventually. But in the meantime—which may be longer than we want—attitude matters, patience is required, and a united purpose prevails.