The news of the past week makes one thing clear: Not everyone has the same risk tolerance for COVID-19 exposure. Getting back to the way things were will happen at a different pace for different people. Make no mistake: What is true for employees, restaurant patrons, or moviegoers will be true for parents when districts attempt to start the 2020–21 school year. Many parents will likely be reassured by district plans to keep schools clean and practice social distancing. They will be more than ready to return the education reins to schools and teachers.
There will be others, however. And they will need more time before they are willing to put their child back on the school bus or in a school building. Some families have medically fragile members at home that make it too risky. Some district plans may not be all that reassuring. Many parents will just be afraid to risk their child’s health if a second wave of the pandemic hits. And the more cautious parents are likely to fall across all levels of the socioeconomic continuum.
More than ever before, flexibility in the education of our children must be the order of the day. Districts and schools will need flexibility over schedules and curriculum. And all parents will need viable options to continue their child’s education at home if they choose to.
The Missouri Legislature could provide students who wish to stay virtual for at least some portion of next year Education Safety Scholarships. These scholarships would put a portion of a student’s state education dollars directly into the hands of their parents. Parents could use these funds to pay tuition to virtual learning programs, purchase technology or curriculum, or pay for online tutoring.
Districts currently attempting to switch from all in-person education to all virtual may be anxious to switch back to what they know. That’s why it’s important that we respect the concerns and the timelines of all parents and give broad access to flexible public education options.