Regret – it’s such a sad concept. It’s the worst part of the “hindsight is 20-20” saying. As I sit here gazing out over a beautiful and calm setting, far removed the awful and unprecedented realities of our world, I think about all the missed opportunities that have come and gone that might have put us in a different, better place than we are now.
As I read and hear about schools still struggling with the re-opening questions, I think back to just a few months ago, as we were all ending a crazy spring of online learning, brought on by the pandemic’s explosion in March. As a school planner and architect, I and my colleagues were actively engaging with our various school partners to reflect on the spring’s lessons-learned and thinking about how to prepare for the fall. At that time, the fall start of school was far enough away that we had time to plan and prepare. Time to make the right choices. Time to more thoughtfully prepare lessons that would likely be delivered at least partially online. Time to be sure all students had the tools and infrastructure necessary to maximize their learning this fall. Time to prepare the physical campuses for the Covid world.
As those discussions and plans evolved, there were still many, many variables that made it challenging to arrive at a single solid plan of action. Many schools adopted some form of “scenario planning” – developing ways to deal with different possible scenarios. There was an overarching desire to strive for some version of on-site learning, even if it involved various hybrid models of mixing on-line and in-person learning.
As the days and weeks ticked away, plans changed and pivoted (a favorite new word for this crazy new world we live in), yet always with the hope (belief?) that conditions would have improved enough in the spread of the pandemic that greater in-person activities were going to be relatively feasible and safe. “Spatial distancing” (a kinder, gentler way to say “social distancing”), mask wearing, greater ventilation, increased hygiene – all these and more were assumed to be part of the fall school year. This seemed doable. Creativitive ideas and approaches were driving the discussions. Educators and others did what they do best – make the best of challenging situations. There were even moments of optimism, as schools began to see a light at the end of the Covid tunnel.
Still, there was one major variable that no one could control, yet this variable was the key to any of these plans working. It was whether we as a country did our part – doing what was necessary to help stem the spread of this pandemic. As the summer unfolded, states succumbed to pressure to begin to re-open. Ignoring or downplaying the urgings of those who had the greatest knowledge and expertise, businesses and other elements of our country reopened, bringing people out and together.
In hindsight, we should have been more patient. We should have heeded the warnings, the urgings, the pleadings of those who knew. Yet we did not. Despite small pockets of thoughtful and wise leadership in a few states, what we instead experienced was a colossal and totally avoidable leadership failure, a lack of strong and disciplined leadership, from the very top on down. From these “leaders” we received constant and flat-out wrong information, mixed signals and a generally chaotic response. In short, we missed our collective opportunity to do what many other countries around the globe WERE able to do – to slow the pandemic down enough to get to a place where they could then begin a slow but deliberate process of reopening their countries, safely.
So, regret. Regret that we had the chance to make the right decisions a few months ago, decisions that did not require any great foresight. We did not make the good choices that were right in front of us. We squandered that precious window of time to be in a better, safer position to start the school year as we had all hoped we could as last year ended. This is not “Monday morning quarterbacking.” This is seeing a clear path – the right path – and actively and aggressively ignoring it.
Other than hopefully being several months closer to having a vaccine, we are no closer to stemming the spread of this pandemic than we were in the spring. We just wasted several months. And now the next several months are going to be far harder than they should be. If we just had listened to the experts and just waited.