One thing we know, we have to learn to master the pivot with COVID-19
I have many different feelings about the mask situation in schools (and other shared spaces), as I am sure everybody does.
My son graduated high school during the first year of COVID-19 and is not starting college until this stuff is clear, when we have more solid facts and more research over a much longer period of time, and when he can safely go completely in-person. I am not sure what we would be doing or how we would feel about the situation if he still had to go to a public high school (or if he was even younger). But he will be 19 years old soon, so he is an adult, and it is his decision: it is his body and his education, so it is his choice, he is no longer a child.
I am continuing with teaching remotely this summer and in the fall term as well, and maybe even in the spring of 2022, too, depending on what life throws at me. The current plan for the fall semester at Harper College is that we will offer some hybrid (half time in classroom and half online) and in-person courses for the fall, and about half of them will be fully online. As of August 16, 2021, fully vaccinated people can go without masks on Harper's main campus, and those who are not must wear masks. Anybody who still wants to wear a mask no matter their vaccine status can do so, but the school is not requiring people to show their proof of vaccination.
A large part of the problem is with how far ahead we teachers must plan our course schedules, with a situation that is constantly changing, frequently adding new variants, a very short time to actually have a working vaccine of some sort (compared to other vaccines with a longer history and track record), all while trying to see into the future (for example, many believe we will spike horribly soon, as summer wraps up and fall begins, especially regarding the Delta variant). We set the schedules for fall terms at the college by March of each year; so, we were trying to guess what it might be like in late August while it was still early March (5 months plus).
As a full-time college professor at Harper, I have a choice, though. I can work remotely, teaching online. I have been teaching college classes online since the early 2000s. I have been training and using course management systems for nearly 20 years at several different universities and colleges. My son will go to college where I teach, and he has until age 26 (if necessary) to take those classes and earn his degree (dependents and spouses of faculty qualify). The result is he can wait, too, and try only to expose himself while working at his grocery store job.
My husband is also about to begin his latest six-monthslong period of chemotherapy and stem cell injections for cancer treatment at the University of Chicago (we are going into year three of all this cancer business). He and I have both been vaccinated and we still wear masks everywhere we go, because he is part of a very vulnerable population.
I cannot even explain how many awful looks we get from some people anytime we go anywhere while we are wearing masks, as if we are dirty and terrible people. We can feel the judgment seething from them whenever they look at us.
I cannot imagine trying to explain all of this to school-aged children and their parents, the weirdness and judgments and fear people have if masks are on or off, no matter what. I can say that this last year or so is literally the first time since I can remember that I have not had a cold or been sick, because I have been home and away from students. Right before COVID-19 shut the world down, I had sinus surgery and had to recover from that only a few days before the world closed. I have not been ill since. Not once. Normally I get at least 2-3 colds per semester (6-10 per year on average).
No matter what we choose to do for classes and learning, those schedules are going to change. We have learned that during the last year and a half. No matter what we do, this puppy is constantly changing, and we must constantly change too. We must master the pivot.
I am not going to judge the parents, the children, the teachers or the administrators of individual schools. All of them must guess at an uncertain future, try their best to keep everybody as safe as it is in their power to do so and ask some rather underpaid people to work even harder and to deal with all the anger and backlash involved. The teachers will likely be the most vulnerable and (unfairly) receive most of the anger, too. A mask is not a big ask compared to a human life, especially those who have dedicated themselves to tirelessly working for the future of all of us. To care for our children. To advance society. To create a better future.
• Therese Hart, of Crystal Lake, is humanities professor and department chair at Harper College in Palatine and a member of the Daily Herald's Editorial Board advisory Sounding Board.