I’m just a girl, standing in front of the school board, asking them to reopen her school.

2020 September 13
by Jennifer

The first day of virtual school did not meet my very low expectations.  Or at least I didn’t.  I expected it would take at least two weeks for the virtual learning situation to bring me to tears, but no. By 11am on the very first day, I was crying, ready to call it quits, and researching if the Peace Corps accepted kindergarteners and/or cats.

After few weeks of days not much better than that one, I was ready to take action.  I felt compelled to share our unpleasant experience with virtual school and assert the importance of in-person education to anyone who would listen.  So, I did what generations of women have done before me—I sat at my kitchen table and launched a letter writing campaign.  This I know for sure: People in power love to hear from women who have come unglued.

I opened my laptop, grabbed a cup of coffee and began ranting writing. 

My first email was to our school’s principal.  I heard a rumor that he thought things were going along just swimmingly, so I made it my personal mission to change his mind about that.  I calmly and clearly articulated the challenges of virtual kindergarten.  I attached this photo.

It felt good to do something. To connect with our principal.  To share my experience.  But does he even have a seat at the table when it comes to decision making?  Does he have any say-so whatsoever regarding schools reopening?  Two more cups of coffee, a few internet clicks and I found the contact info for the entire Atlanta Public School Board.

I decided to revise and repurpose the principal email to send it the decision makers.  

With fresh eyes and my new audience in mind, I re-read my initial email to the principal.   Though I was aiming for concerned and competent, I came across as a tad…unhinged.  So, I logged out of Gmail and switched to Outlook.  Now the emails would come from my corporate email address, complete with my work signature, fancy title and company logo.  I wanted them to see that I wasn’t your average crazy mom, I was a professional crazy mom. 

Next, I emailed our district’s representative on the school board.  I told him a little bit about the challenges of virtual kindergarten.  It is best to have a specific ask in mind, so I suggested a reopening plan that prioritized making in-person learning available to students with special needs and to the youngest students (i.e. Kindergarteners. Like this one. She was supposed to be “learning” but instead she spent the morning creating this desk for her unicorn). 

I continued to work my way down the contact list, each email serving as my template for the one after.  With each subsequent email, I gained momentum in my conviction around the ineffectiveness of virtual school specifically for early learners and those with special needs.  I also started outlining the disproportionate impact school closures have on students and communities most in need.  I cited news articles about how virtual learning further widens the achievement gap between the haves and the have-nots.

By my last board email, I was officially an expert on the correlation between third grade reading levels, truancy, and the prison population.  I was punctuating my points with relevant statistics as I built my case. Maybe I was just screaming into a canyon, but at least it had the placebo effect of feeling productive.

Then I went back to my Gmail and sent a thank you note to my daughter’s kindergarten teacher. I told her she was crushing it. I praised her efforts to adapt to providing instruction in this new medium.   I told her she was a war hero who deserved a Purple Heart.  I apologized that a unicorn crashed the kindergarten zoom.

The decision of whether to reopen schools for face-to-face learning is complex.  Many teachers don’t want to risk getting sick if schools are open. Many parents can’t work if schools are closed.  Many children can’t learn if they are at home. Many homes are unsafe places for children.  Children with special needs are losing key skills, missing milestones and falling behind.  Children of parents with financial means are getting ahead thanks to tutors, private school and enrichment programs—advantages unavailable to children at some public schools.  Many public schools serve communities that may be at higher risk for contracting the virus.  Many teachers may be high-risk themselves or caring for loved ones that are.  Many children are at high risk without the structure, security and meals provided by the school system. And on. And on. And on.  It’s messy and complicated and scary and sad all the way around. But as case numbers continue trending in the right direction, the pros of reopening outweigh the cons.

It’s been a week now since I gave my two cents to via email the Atlanta Board of Education.  I know a lot of other parents who have done the same.  Women far more savvy than me are launching Facebook groups to gather support and circulating petitions (please sign it).  Enough crazy moms can certainly move the needle on this thing, right?

Just this morning, this email landed in my inbox: 

Basically: The school board might be planning to plan to formulate a plan to make a plan to begin planning for reopening. Eventually. And that plan might incorporate a tiered approach that prioritizes children who are having the most challenges distance learning. Maybe they’re reading the influx of ranty emails from disgruntled homeschooling madwomen afterall? Only plus or minus 129,398,408,484 days of virtual learning to go.

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