A new and different school year ahead

By Dennis Minich

As much as I hate writing about how time flies – blah, blah, blah, there is always an exception for the start of the school year. While the calendar indicates the year starts in January, there also seems to be a natural break when school rolls around. We measure our time not by seasons, but by start of school, winter break, spring break, graduation season, summer.

This year seems especially noteworthy as there doesn’t appear to be any cases of virtual learning in any area districts, instead students are going to be in classes, “all in their places with bright smiling faces” or something like that. Sadly, every element of every day is going to be observed like never before trying to watch for signs of COVID or the potential spread of the disease. Likewise, as has been the case for the past many months, every development will be met with two resounding voices, one decrying the lack of safety concerns, the other decrying the loss of liberty attempting to be imposed on the people. And just like in any other custody battle, it is the kids who are caught in the middle as basically helpless props in a bigger argument.

I find myself caught in the middle of these arguments. I understand the big picture of government mandates and control in our lives, but I also, as a COVID survivor, understand the need to get ahead of this disease. I know some people probably tire of me talking about my bout with COVID, but I will tell you, it changes your perspective.

I think one of the elements which angers me the most is people spouting numbers like 98.9 percent of people who get the disease don’t die. That’s true, but there are many like me who live daily with medical issues we did not have prior to having COVID. We long-termers may be far greater in number than is actually realized. Just because we didn’t die doesn’t mean it is not bad.

There are also the folks who say we don’t know enough about the vaccine long term. Honestly, there is the same truth with any vaccine. The polio vaccine has been around for several decades, but we still don’t know the long-term effects it may cause. The same with chickenpox vaccine. There have been virtually no cases of chickenpox in the past 25 years, but we still don’t know what the longterm effects of the vaccine are.

Of course, there are folks against all vaccines, but there is a statistical reality that sometimes the benefits of things out-weigh the risks.

Finally, there are folks who point out every case of someone getting sick from the vaccine. It is going to happen. According to statistics, about one-half of one percent of every person who dies in a car accident die because they were wearing a seatbelt. Seatbelts can cause death. But the same statistics show that more than 47 percent of all automobile deaths are people not wearing seatbelts. That is how you can weigh benefit vs. risk.

Likely I cannot change anyone’s mind on either side of the topic, but I do think it’s important we understand the stakes. Twice in the past week I was at gatherings of antivaxxers and anti-mask mandators prepared to protest, only to find those they were protesting were already agreeing with them. One was the Harrisonville School Board, the other was the visit by Gov. Mike Parson last week. I think we all see far too many national stories and aren’t paying attention to what is happening locally.

But I have digressed from my original thoughts about the start of school. I am not envious of teachers and staff at the schools who will be in the classroom, some with students who were not in class at all last year. Many routines and activities will have to be retrained after being neglected for a year. In addition to teaching, our educators are going to be placed in positions of having to monitor and maintain safety protocols. I have often admired the work teachers do. I can say without equivocation there is no way in the world I would want the job. There are too many demands, too many risks and frankly, not enough reward for the average person to take the path to the classroom.

They are special people and we need to appreciate them as such. And to the teachers: many years ago, when my son was still in school, I wrote that we as parents have to trust you. For most every day for the next 10 months we are entrusting you with our most valued item, our children. We have to trust you will look out for them. We have to trust you will listen to them. We have to trust you will be patient with them. We have to trust you will respect them, but also demonstrate how to be worthy of respect. We have to trust you will teach them.

As parents we owe you respect and a willingness to work with you.

Who knows what the 2021-22 school year will bring? We hope the major stories will be about success, fun and education. Happy New School Year.