At home this summer, my daughter Zayley, 11, has watched for the mail truck every day with the excitement of someone waiting for her Publishers Clearinghouse check.
You can’t blame her. She hasn’t been to school since March, and all three of my daughters are now grappling with the reality they will be “learning virtually” from home starting Monday, rather than attending the public schools where they are enrolled in-person.
So Zayley looks forward to getting the mail as a regimented, yet somewhat unpredictable, part of what have otherwise become very predictable days. You never know what surprises might be in the mailbox, right?
On Thursday, Zayley came in from her mail run and handed me an envelope from the elementary school where my youngest, Pfeiffer, will start kindergarten next week. But it was addressed to “The Parents of Zack Plair.”
What surprises, indeed.
Part of me wondered if I could legally open it, as my parents live in Arkansas. But opting for forgiveness over permission, I couldn’t resist.
Inside was the real treat. This elementary school had me, at age 36, registered as a student, but the letter indicated my birth certificate, shot records and two proofs of residency were needed to complete my enrollment. For a moment, I felt like a real-life Billy Madison, only it would kind of be in reverse. Adam Sandler’s character in the film didn’t enter his romantic relationship with a teacher until after he had been back through school. I’m already married to a teacher in the district.
The more immediate concern was if there was a misprint on the envelope, and the letter was actually meant to tell us Pfeiffer’s documents – which we had submitted to enroll her – had been misplaced. It happens.
So, on Friday, I went donning mask to the school and explained the situation. The ladies I talked to were friendly and abundantly helpful. They assured me Pfeiffer’s registration was complete and her documents all in-hand. But they told me I also had somehow been registered as a student – one of at least four parents this had happened to this year.
I asked who my teacher was supposed to be, but they didn’t answer. It’s also unclear whether I had been registered for kindergarten or first grade.
Ultimately, I withdrew my enrollment from the elementary school, citing work obligations, and the ladies assured me I wouldn’t have to be in class on Monday. All’s well that ends well, although I was kind of getting excited about playing with blocks and going to Centers.
The experience, though, brought something a little more frightening to mind.
Teachers, administrators and everyone working at schools this fall face immense pressure implementing a pandemic strategy that is spreading their resources thinner than they have ever been. What they’re being asked to do is impossible, and it’s lost on no one involved that a mistake this year could mean the difference between life and death for themselves, a student, a coworker or loved ones exposed.
They have admirably toiled to make things as normal as possible. Our district, as well as others in the area, have done a marvelous job under the circumstances. But our district also registered a 36-year-old for elementary school, an extremely abnormal mistake indicative of such an abnormal time.
Anyone makes mistakes when they are frazzled and trying to function out of their element. It’s even worse when some things – environment, expectations, etc. – are the “as usual” but so many other trappings (i.e., the stakes) are different. I imagine anyone working at a school right now, from the superintendent to the lowest paid staff member, feels like they’re in the Twilight Zone as they make the best of preparing for or starting the semester.
Add fear of getting sick or making someone else sick. Add the responsibility in-person teachers will have of disinfecting rooms between classes, as well as making sure kids are wearing their masks. Add the anxiety, and impatience, of students and parents who desperately want things to be normal but they aren’t.
The Good Book says man can’t serve two masters. Yet, school employees are being asked to serve our children’s educational needs “like normal,” while also trying to protect them from contracting and spreading an invisible virus.
We need to be prepared for the possibility this may not go well. And we need to do so with the knowledge that everyone trying to make it work is doing the best they can.
The bottom line is, by offering unclear, untimely and unreasonable expectations, state-level leadership – per the usual in Mississippi – hung our public schools out to dry. Now we deal with the consequences while Tate and his ilk keep shirking responsibility. As Mr. Reeves’ political daddy would say, “It is what is.”
My wife is one of the many teachers instructing all-virtual this semester. For that I am grateful. To those who are in classrooms with kids, as well as the administration, staff and students who have committed to looking this virus in the eye every day: I’m praying for you; I’m pulling for you; and I hope whatever happens, you will be OK.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.