As We Emerge
It’s not over yet, but signs abound that the COVID-19 pandemic is on the wane. The epidemiological indicators which have become assimilated into our daily intake of data – much akin to baseball scores, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and the five-day weather forecast – are all trending in the right direction. People are out and about in malls and restaurants, at theaters and concerts, on planes and ships. Slowly but steadily, state and local health mandates, ordinances and protocols are being scaled back, loosened, or rescinded.
Just a few short weeks ago, the social fabric of schools – both public and private – was being torn asunder by heated charges and recriminations over the maintenance of universal masking policies. Now, even the most stalwart of holdouts, the Los Angeles Unified School District, has adopted a policy that places decisions about whether and where students are to wear masks in the hands of their parents.
Battles will continue to rage over pending legislation adding COVID-19 to the list of diseases for which vaccinations must be received as a criterion for unconditional admission to California public and private K-12 schools. But as we steadily continue to reclaim life-as-it-was prior to the pandemic, and as schools find their way back (and forward) to programming that’s ever-less unconstrained by COVID protocols, such controversies will lose a good deal of their steam. Not to mention that the bloodshed, destruction and suffering loosed upon the people of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin’s wanton aggression have placed our personal bills of discontent in stark and humbling perspective.
We will not emerge from the pandemic unscathed. Not only has the virus brought a staggering number of lives to an untimely end, our attempts to control it have wrought collateral damage of immense proportions. Economic devastation notwithstanding, we’re only beginning to glimpse the enormity of the learning loss suffered by our children, as well as the prevalence and magnitude of the psychological scars now borne by a generation of young people for whom the term ‘carefree childhood’ is no longer applicable.
We will never fully return to “the way things were,” though in some respects this may be for the better. While we tend to focus on the hardships, the disruptions and deprivations of the preceding two years have been met with remarkable adaptability, most notably in the way we gather, organize, and communicate. Vaccines and therapeutics were developed in both unprecedented ways and with unprecedented dispatch. Businesses that survived learned to operate differently and, in many instances, more efficiently. Looking forward, we are less likely to gather around the proverbial water cooler, than around our respective screens. New and evolving technology-driven means of organizing information, engaging in decision making and accomplishing tasks will hardly be confined to the domain of business. Educational applications and adaptations are already at-hand. The COVID-19 pandemic may well have been the mother of all exogenous shocks to the system.
Not only have private schools learned how to behave differently over the course of the past two years, I believe they have come to be viewed differently by elected officials. When seen through a public health lens, distinctions between school types blur, or disappear. For years, I have attempted to promulgate the view that private schools are partners in the education of the public, with varying degrees of receptivity. Be that as it may, no one who has lived through the COVID-19 pandemic harbors any doubt about private schools being partners in the protection of the public.
California teamed up with its private schools not just in word, but in deed. The state distributed millions of items of personal protective equipment to private schools. Private school students and staff were included in state-funded testing and immunization programs. Suddenly, state and county officials were counting private school leaders among their education “team members.” Moreover, agencies of the state implemented the aforementioned school assistance programs without any voices in Sacramento (or elsewhere) raising questions about the following state constitutional provision: “No public money shall ever be appropriated for the support of any sectarian or denominational school, or any school not under the exclusive control of the officers of the public schools.”
In like manner, no questions have been raised concerning the legality of the state appropriating $50 million for the award of nonprofit security grants designed to help institutions at risk of terrorist attacks and hate crimes – including houses of worship and private religious schools – harden their facilities against such threats. Apparently, such state-funded programs don’t provide support to schools so much as to those who populate their spaces. If this is true, state support for private education, even in deep blue California, would appear to be fungible.
This June, the U.S. Supreme Court will make what could amount to an historic decision in Carson v. Makin, a case that could strike down state laws such as the one referenced above. Should that happen, states such as California that have turned a blind eye to the enforcement of such proscriptions when public health was at stake may find it more difficult to protest…and may have less inclination to do so. Would that the so-called “Blaine Amendments” were the last casualties of the Coronavirus.
Note: The commentary and views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessary represent those of the California Association of Private School Organizations, or its members.