Editorial: Fingers crossed, many dilemmas as the kids return to school

Last Tuesday, Aug, 24, in the corner of a Tremont Montessori classroom on a 85-plus degree day, with the fan pointing everywhere but in the direction of the well-spaced students hoping for its breeze, one young scholar, who happens to be my12-year-old son Sam, is hoping for the best in the school district.  

No school until temperatures drop, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District announced, and cooler air isn't a wishful dream.

The real wishful dream that many parents were thinking about is simply having our kids back in a classroom.  

<span class="content-image-text">Tremont Montessori School</span>Tremont Montessori SchoolEven now, while my son is sweating and dreading the sauna that is the schoolhouse, his attendance seems so fragile.  

As everyone who lived through the dreaded 2020 feels, the year-we-shall-not-ever-mention-again, 2021 was the sunshine at the end of the storm we so yearned for.

The vaccine came out. COVID-19 practically shrank to nothing in the spring and early summer.  

Life. Was. Awesome. But then, like the science teacher no one in class wants to listen to, (global warming, anyone?) we started to hear about outbreaks again. At first, is wasn’t here in the U.S., so no need to burst our bubble of happiness, and still easy to ignore. But, nonetheless, it was present. It’s like that pesky science teacher I remember from ninth grade. 

Ignoring the signs of something people dread happening is pretty common. When the Delta variant first began circulating in the ever-present COVID-19 coverage in the media, I, too, hoped that we might somehow be different from the rest of the world and avoid this resurgence.  

I wholeheartedly admit to ignoring all news about COVID-19 during the entire month of July. My family and I just needed to have that normal life, if only temporarily. 

But I am still a mom and Delta is not someone you turn a blind eye to. Not if you have kids who are too young to receive the vaccine. Not if you know that in school all those kids are going to be very, very close to each other.

Now that I’ve removed my rose-colored glasses, I hate to admit that 2021 may be more difficult than I could ever have imagined. It seemed to me that last year we were all in it together. Remote learning was tough but knowing that every family was weathering it in their own ways, yet right there with you, meant that it was a shared experience.  

Today, we are treading in uncertain waters. The vaccine was supposed to be the finish line. It isn’t. Here we are in a world where we must face difficult choices that have no easy—or even right—answers.

The danger of the virus is the larger-than-life lion snarling at you from feet away.  

But the childhood depression is the snake slithering in the corner. The social skills lost from too many days in quarantine are the biting flies around your face. The eyestrain and headaches from so many hours on a screen are the outline of some creature you can't even define slinking in the dark. 

<span class="content-image-text">12 year old Sam Hooper and 7 year old Oliver Hooper at Tremont Montessori School.</span>12 year old Sam Hooper and 7 year old Oliver Hooper at Tremont Montessori School.Each of these threats can be deadly and avoiding all of them might be impossible. 

When we love our children—and we do what we think is best—and we wear that burden heavily. Yet this year we don't have the solidarity of sharing this burden together. 

I see so much division and judgment where once there was support. I am happy my kids are back in school, and I believe they should have every tool at their disposal to remain safe and in-person. If that means masks, then I am all for it.  It’s masks on at school...or it’s back to Chromebooks on my couch. And for my seven-year-old son Oliver, it's more like Legos, strategically placed off camera and therefore out of teacher’s sight, and Chromebooks.

The future is full of questions. We don't know when or if the vaccine will be approved in young children. We don't know how many times we may have to quarantine when the school year really gets into gear and, God-forbid, kids start getting sick in our schools.  

Will there be a booster, should there be a booster? How many more variants will evolve? How long can we really live in fear of this thing that has disrupted and, unfortunately, ended so many lives before the fear of it becomes more damaging than the thing itself?  

I don’t have the answers. I have my opinions, and I admit, I feel strongly about them. But no matter what you do to survive COVID-19—be it quarantine, vaccination, or simply nothing—we have to stop condemning each other and focus on the kids.  

Young kids don't have the luxury of choosing to get the vaccine because they can't yet.  My seven-year-old desperately wants it. He's tired of wearing the mask and being the only one in the family who is truly in danger.

If we think it's frustrating having to endure mandates and follow guidelines, how do you think our children feel? They have zero control of the situation, where most adults have at least some small measure of choice.  

For now, I choose to face each day with compassion. Driving up to that big brick school that has taught so many generations of Clevelanders, I think of the role Tremont Montessori, (formerly Tremont Elementary) shared in bringing different cultures together. It seems like such a great symbol of our times. 

Here is this huge sturdy building standing strong to shelter our kids against the world’s attempts to separate them. Dropping off my boys, they join a line of kids standing next to masked teachers waiting to escort them inside.

We say goodbye at least five times and I watch them, waving, as they enter those solid walls. Today, at least, we are standing strong and solid together, and doing everything in our power to keep it that way.

Brittney Hooper
Brittney Hooper

About the Author: Brittney Hooper

Brittney Hooper is a lifelong Clevelander who resides in Old Brooklyn with her husband, two young sons, and a house full of animals (she thinks living near the zoo equates to needing a zoo yourself). A passionate environmentalist, Hooper works by day as a research associate at a biotech company and in her free time writes, colors, explores, cooks, and otherwise enjoys the many jewels her city has to offer.