The hands we’re dealt

Published 6:57 pm Tuesday, August 18, 2020

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“We all saw this coming,” reads an updated headline of an editorial printed Monday in The Daily Tarheel, the on-campus newspaper at UNC-Chapel Hill. The editorial was in response to news of four so-called “clusters” of COVID-19 cases that were identified on UNC’s campus since students returned to school Aug. 10. Three of those clusters were within university living areas, and the fourth was at a fraternity house.

The same day that editorial was printed, university administrators announced that the campus would switch to online instruction and reduce the number of students living in its dorms.

“We all saw this coming,” The Daily Tarheel editorial reads. “In his fall semester welcome message, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz wrote, ‘As always, remember that it is our shared responsibility to keep each other safe. Every person you walk by on campus will be counting on you to diligently work to prevent the spread of the virus.’

“But University leadership should have expected students, many of whom are now living on their own for the first time, to be reckless. Reports of parties throughout the weekend come as no surprise. Though these students are not faultless, it was the University’s responsibility to disincentivize such gatherings by reconsidering its plans to operate in-person earlier on.”

While it may be easy to dismiss this criticism as the bleating of sheep (or rams), it does hit on the weight of the responsibility school administrators, from college to kindergarten, have in making decisions to protect the health of students, faculty, staff and the community as a whole.

Across the state, school administrators, boards of education and the UNC Board of Governors have grappled with these tough questions for the better part of the summer.

For Beaufort County Schools, the answer was starting the fall semester with four weeks of remote learning. For local non-traditional schools, the answer was a measured, cautious return to the classroom. For UNC-Chapel Hill, the initial answer of, “We’ll give it a try” quickly turned to, “This is not working.”

These decisions are tough pills to swallow. For the parents of many local students, it will mean difficulties finding childcare, frustrations with remote learning and a major shift from the typical routine. For the students going home from UNC-Chapel Hill this week, it will mean adapting to the challenges of online instruction, losing out on a semester of the college experience and possibly having to move back in with Mom and Dad.

In both cases, there’s an understandable feeling of powerlessness, as those in authority make decisions that significantly impact people’s daily lives. Since March, we’ve known that things were going to be different, from our daily routines to the way our children learn. From the day that schools released for the last time that month, there’s always been the possibility that schools might not reopen immediately in the fall.

“We all saw this coming.”

The question then becomes, how will we play the hand we’ve been dealt, to rise above the circumstances of this most unusual time?