An open letter to families within the Mt. Lebanon School District

Hi everyone,

Let’s begin with the obvious: Roughly half of you are going to support the words you’re about to read, and roughly half of you aren’t.

Roughly half of you will think I’m sane and rational, and roughly half of you will think I’m something else.

The board of the Mt. Lebanon School District continues to be guided by the best available science and health information as it determines how the school year should unfold. Unless you have specific evidence the board is lying or otherwise deceiving us, you need to clam up and support those members who are demonstrating ethical and strong leadership; it’s desperately needed at the moment.

The decision to shift to remote-only instruction for the next couple of weeks (and let’s be honest, it likely will be for longer) is absolutely the right decision.

Full stop.

Our schools should NOT be open right now.

Our sports teams should NOT be playing right now.

A normal school year is NOT possible right now.

The notion that our sons and daughters somehow “deserve” sports, musicals, proms and more is foolish. It’s also dangerous. Of course, we want these opportunities for our children, and we’re blessed to be able to have a school district that can offer so many extracurricular and social programs to our kids. However, we’d be derelict in our duties as parents if we threw our children into those activities knowing what we do about coronavirus.

Many of us have had to deal with crises in our lives or in our families lives during which we temporarily scaled back what we were doing. Whether that crisis was physical, emotional or something else, it required us to invest much more time in taking care of the person or people in need of attention; everything else became irrelevant.

That’s where we are in late November of 2020 with coronavirus. The school board’s first and only obligation right now is to ensure our sons and daughters are educated and in the safest environment possible; everything else — including those prized perks of living in a community like ours — gets put on the back burner.

Full stop.

COVID-19 is a vicious virus that has taken advantage of horrible leadership from our federal government and from too many of our states’ governors in order to spread like wildfire. Coronavirus also has benefited from that often admired, but at times misguided, sense of individuality embedded into the DNA of too many Americans. We love to do what we want, when we want, and we want no one telling us we can’t.

Well, right now, we can’t. Pandemics will happily take advantage of your precious individuality to help it infect even more people.

As you consider that, please also divorce yourself of the idea that Mt. Lebanon’s teachers “work for us” and therefore must teach in a face-to-face environment. Of course, face-to-face instruction is best, and we’re fortunate to have some of the best teachers anywhere in Allegheny County in our high school, middle school and elementary school classrooms. But don’t ever forget they, too, are husbands, wives, sons, daughters and parents. They ought not be required to risk their health because they “work for us.” Such arrogance benefits no one.

If the chance to work remotely — and many of us in this community have that option right now — is available, our teachers ought to take advantage of it, as well.

The county relays coronavirus information each day, and those data tell us quite clearly the number of people diagnosed with the virus and the number of people dying from it are increasing. Sadly, we can anticipate that narrative to be familiar in the coming months. Thankfully, no Mt. Lebanon school teacher, staff or student has yet died from coronavirus. But pay attention to the news and you know that school districts throughout the county and the country haven’t been as lucky.

This school year will be a great one if we get to June and no teacher, staff person or student is lost because of COVID-19.

We’ve received some remarkably positive news in recent weeks about vaccine trials. It’s possible that as early as next month some Americans will receive that vaccine. As the winter months unfold, we can anticipate more and more Americans also being vaccinated, presuming of course that the vaccine is working properly and without side effects.

The stories I read suggest that we could see something resembling normal life returning in 2021. (Here’s one such story; it comes from the Associated Press, which enjoys a reputation for producing solid journalism each day.) Whenever that day comes, we ought to celebrate it like our forebears did when World War II ended.

But until it does, a variety of limitations on this atypical school year are necessary.

We who live in Mt. Lebanon should recognize many of our school board members are doing the right thing. We also should recognize many of our teachers want to remain in that role, nurturing our sons and daughters. We should join with those board members and teachers showing wise and ethical leadership.

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