Skip to main content

Opinion | Washington Educators, While You Waste Time Bargaining, Our Children Are Suffering

“The distance ‘learning’ model has robbed many students of a key piece of their identities”

Ashley Wolfe headshot
 | 

Published on: February 11, 2021

discouraged boy slumped on his desk in front of a computer

Editor's note: ParentMap publishes articles, op-eds and essays by people from all walks of life. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own and are not endorsed by ParentMap.

When I read the news earlier this year that the Seattle Public Schools School Board had unanimously approved a plan to begin bringing students back to in-person learning on March 1, a weight was lifted. It was high time they make the move and find common ground with the Seattle Education Association (SEA), the labor union that represents Seattle Public Schools educators. Though I felt it was too little, too late, it was nevertheless an important step in the right direction. Then, last week, the district dealt another unsurprising disappointment. 

From my limited view as a Seattle Public Schools parent, bargaining for in-person learning is not going well. The district shared an email update at the end of last week that it will not be hitting a March 1 return for K–1 students. What’s more, when students do finally return, it will not be full-time as we hoped, but only two days per week. At this rate, the odds of older elementary, middle school and high school students returning before the last day of school on June 18 feels about as realistic as getting my children to keep their camera on for all of their online classes.

Seattle’s attention to students has been sub-par since the beginning of the pandemic, but it’s gotten to a point that I’d characterize as unforgivable. The American Academy of Pediatrics has been encouraging in-person learning since last summer, and the CDC says we can safely send students back, so why are we waiting until March? Why is the district still mired in bargaining with the union when we’ve had nearly a year now to lay the groundwork for a return to school? Why isn’t SEA more accountable to students? Why have children — among our most vulnerable citizens and also the most integral to our future success as a country — been deprioritized again and again? 

My views may not be popular, but I know I’m far from the only parent asking these questions. I also know my household is not the only one starting to crack under the stress of roughly 11 months without the structure and supports of a regularly functioning society. 

The past year has felt like an eternity of tiptoeing across a frozen lake. Now, the ice has broken apart, and my family, like so many others, feels stranded on a single floating block that shrinks smaller every day. 

Many days, my sons spend roughly six hours in bed or on the couch, their faces inches away from a glowing laptop screen. When combined with the time they spend actually sleeping, my boys are spending upwards of 16 hours a day inert. They exhibit signs of depression. They have anxiety attacks. They can’t sleep. Any rational parent during rational times would take these as signs of illness. The thing is that my boys are — or were, six months ago — perfectly physically and mentally fit. 

The past year has felt like an eternity of tiptoeing across a frozen lake. Now, the ice has broken apart, and my family, like so many others, feels stranded on a single floating block that shrinks smaller every day. 

Now, we are looking for a therapist who will do in-person sessions (no thank you to putting my kids in a telemedicine appointment with a stranger, as was so unhelpfully suggested by the schools and our pediatrician). We’ve had more than one “episode” that made us consider a trip to Seattle Children’s ER. We have discussed whether the boys might need prescription medications to stay afloat. Again, we are not the only ones who have watched our healthy, vibrant boys wither as so many of the things they live for, so many of the things they love, have been stripped away. SEA, Seattle Public Schools, I hope you are paying attention: This is the reality of remote learning for more students than you think.    

Another casualty? An inherent love for learning. The distance “learning” model has robbed many students of a key piece of their identities. My oldest son is a naturally good student. He cares about his grades, enjoys learning and takes pride in flexing his mental muscles in the classroom. He’s not an overachiever, but someone who draws self-esteem from being “good at school.” He’s now spent nearly a year during a critical developmental stage missing out on one of the core aspects of his identity. He can’t be good at school when he’s not in school. Technical difficulties boot him from Teams meetings, so he misses out on key lessons. Online materials hosted on sites not equipped to handle the traffic of thousands of students accessing them at the same time don’t load, wasting his time and burying him in frustration. 

But my husband and I can barely keep our children’s mental health afloat, let alone worry about whether a book report is turned in on time.

I’ve received an email from school almost every day notifying me of a missed assignment, an “absence” or another concern about one of my children. I appreciate that teachers — under their own set of stress and challenges — are reaching out to check in. But my husband and I can barely keep our children’s mental health afloat, let alone worry about whether a book report is turned in on time. If educators want this to change, they need to fix their broken system of bureaucracy and bargaining. They need to get our children — all of our children — back into the classroom. 

Everything that makes our kids their unique, beautiful selves has been stripped away. Social life, sports, band, school, clubs, youth groups, adventures, and on and on, have been either canceled or changed to a small-screen-sized substitute for the real thing. My children cry themselves to sleep almost every night. They tell me they dread the next day. They tell me this will go on forever — because they do not have an adult’s ability to see past their present reality. In response, my husband and I empathize, offer guidance for practicing positivity and gratitude, reassure them that this will end and remind them that they are persevering through one of the most difficult tests they will face in life. 

These encouragements buoy them, but only so much. They need more than us to feel that life is worth living. They need their friends, their coaches, their community. Their teachers. Seattle Public Schools and SEA, I am begging you, please figure this out, please make children your priority. They are lost without you. 

STAY CONNECTED!
Get the best of ParentMap delivered right to your inbox.

Related Topics

Share this article with your friends!

Leave a Comment