March 12, 2021 by Tom Deighan
In the 1960’s some surfers produced a movie called Endless Summer chronicling a surfing trip around the world. I have only seen clips of this movie, but the views of pristine beaches fascinate me. After decades of giant hotels and condominiums, those scenes are now more myth than reality, not only due to development but also due to COVID. This year’s two-piece swimsuits are now three-piece with matching masks. Please do not swim with a mask, however, due to a risk of accidental water-boarding. Besides, most of us could use some sun on our chins, and sea turtles do not spread COVID, as far as I know. (I am certain something on the interweb contradicts this, however.) Honestly, I cannot separate myth from fact anymore, but I do think we can address the myth of the endless spring break.
This week marks the COVID closures of last year, and from news reports, one could reasonably conclude that most Oklahoma public schools have been closed since COVID hit last year. Although my school district has been open all year, without interruption, many of my staff wonder also if we are the exception. I cannot blame anyone for this assumption, for I can find little evidence to the contrary besides an Oklahoma State School Boards Association survey in November and an Oklahoma State Department of Education survey from last August. Best I can tell, at least three-quarters of Oklahoma school districts started the school year with in-person learning. That number dipped during the height of the COVID surge in November, with as many as 35% of districts closing temporarily, but most of those districts quickly resumed classes.
Schools that have stayed open have accomplished exceptional feats, but they have not been the exception in this matter. Most – yes, most – school districts in Oklahoma have apparently been open all or most of this school year. Despite the fear and uncertainty, most schools provided in-person learning for their children so parents and businesses could get back to normal. Our communities cussed and discussed the issues, but we made these decisions locally, just as many districts have made the infinitely painful choice to close. Unfortunately, the state and national narrative almost entirely ignores the communities across the state and nation who have stayed open.
My heart truly goes out to districts who have been closed most of this school year. Students hate it, and parents cannot find words to express their frustrations and fears. Most teachers and staff hate it, too, and their stress levels are beyond unhealthy. My fellow administrators in those districts are near the breaking point trying to manage it, but I honestly do not see how many of them could have opened, based on their local factors. After last spring’s forced school closures, I don’t know any of us who envy those districts who have closed. Our prayers are with you, your students, and your staff. Please be encouraged, this endless spring break will eventually end for you and your students.
For those of you who have stayed open – against all odds – I also wish to encourage you. Although the state and national political-media machine has largely dismissed you, you are not alone. Despite all of the challenges, fear, and loss, you kept your schools open, often at great personal cost. You are as front-line as anyone, and your communities, parents, and students appreciate you as never before. That’s the beauty of local control. Whatever path individual districts chose during this unprecedented year, Oklahoma school districts are more concerned with their students, their staff, and their parents than state or national politics. Oklahoma needs to acknowledge those districts and educators who stayed open, however. Your bravery, sacrifice, and selflessness has been seen and deeply appreciated. As you enter this spring break, I can hear the voices of millions of Oklahomans saying, Well done, good and faithful educators! May your spring breaks always be short and your summers endless.