The days are getting into a routine. I get up, I eat, I do some laptop work, I eat again, I do some other work or talk to some buddies, I go on a walk, I have a snack, I practice, I do yoga, I read, I hang out with the housemates, I sleep. The only way I can tell which day is which is the walk I took on that day.
I have a good video chat with Madeline, the college buddy I was supposed to visit in Seattle. She made it to her Minnesota home for spring break to be with her family, but is getting scared of the potential for a travel ban preventing her from going back to Seattle. Her boyfriend is still at their apartment and becoming sick with a tight chest a cough, two of the main Covid symptoms. He's scared to leave the studio apartment for anything at all, even a drive-through test. Plus he's tired. Really tired.
She really wants to be able to go back and be with him and feels bad that he's sick and alone. We don't know if he has Covid-19, and probably will never know if he had it. But there's a chance he has this highly contagious, terrible virus, and she wants to be there with him in a studio apartment. There's still a lot of love in this world. It gives me hope.
Housemate Will tells me about a park in Ann Arbor with some trails to check out. I meet up with bandmates and college buds Ezra and Jacob for our exploration of Bird Hills. We find a magnificent park of wooded, hilly trails. It's larger than any other Ann Arbor park I had been to. In one direction there were tall pines bringing dark green to the otherwise brown landscape. In another direction there were tall, straight, skinny trees, barren but for a head of green hair. In yet another direction the trees had windy branches that looked abstract against the greying sky. As we ventured we found some white birches, pale and hiding below the other trees in their own section of the woods. Some trees swayed widely at the top while others remained rigid to the natural eye. The swayers creaked loudly, cutting through the sound of the wind and the footsteps, as if they were speaking to the other trees.
It is the first time we are seeing each other since the start of all this, which feels like a really long time ago. In reality we have gone longer without seeing each other, but the concept of time is quite dissociated from "normal" conventions. Jacob asks the now common question that has replaced 'how's it going.'
"How is everyone holding up?" We all agree that things are relatively okay for us. We are making it work in our living situations and enjoying the company of others.
"I just find it unsettling and disorienting for things to feel normal and almost okay amidst a crisis," I say.
"Yeah, I've been struggling with that a lot too," Jacob adds. "I just know this is going to be an emotional marathon and we are still very early on."
"I just feel like the only choice we have is to be happy," Ezra states.
"Well, we can also just be sad," I say.
The rest of the walk is filled with our normal exchanges. We plan our somewhat absurd next band show (a livestream event with technical difficulties that's really a well-put together film), debate random nonsensical narratives we have introduced to common language, and ask a lot of "what ifs," all while purposely trying to get lost in the sea of trails, taking less conventional routes, and contemplating proper names of forest features. Every now and then we stop and listen to the trees and the birds, pointing out when we have reached a new family of tree, or when one tree looks particularly unique.
We reach a tree on top of a hill that is unlike the surrounding tall and skinny trees. It stands away from the other trees, distinguishing itself with it's thick trunk that splits into many thick curvey trunks that are low to the ground. In other words, it is a perfect climbing tree. The others start climbing, but uncharacteristically I don't think I can. My hands are starting to get numb. It's colder than I thought it would be in the shade and we have been out a long time. I didn't even bring gloves with me to Ann Arbor. Jacob offers me an extra pair of gloves he has in his pocket. I am very thankful, but still cannot warm my hands enough to grip them around branches. It's only when I give the gloves back that I realize maybe sharing gloves does not comply with social distancing.
The emails of the day are mostly relating to a Michigan Department of Education (MDE) press announcement stating that our school days during extended learning will not count towards the required 180 school days of instruction. This press release sets off a chain of confusion and educators expressing concern from all over the state. The memo gives the impression that in the eyes of the state, this time of teaching does not matter. But it doesn't actually say that. What it says is that it cannot be counted towards instructional time because of equity issues with technology. Not all students in the state are going to have access to electronics. The way the laws are set up, the school needs to have 75% attendance to count as a school day, and we cannot determine attendance numbers in online platforms. It is vague in what this means for all us teachers working our butts off to put entire courses online in a matter of days. The statement says that this does not mean the school year will extend to the summer.
Teachers are rightfully confused and annoyed. Many are working harder than ever only to be told it does not count. My superintendent releases this email. It states his disappointment with the press release and his firm belief that what we are doing does count.
Maybe it is an unpopular opinion, but I think the MDE was right in saying these days cannot "count." They are right that all kids do not have access to the same technology. I highly doubt all the kids with IEPs in the state have all their accommodations being met right now. I have multiple students that have a one-to-one aid with them in the classroom. They do not have that at home and it is not right to assume the parent is free to play that role in their child's education. There are countless accommodations that we just don't know how to meet in this situation, and many scenarios we have never tested before. A student that has never needed an IEP before may need one in this situation. Are all students going to be evaluated at a clinical level to determine if they need assistance meeting the standards of this new world?
It is easy to be mad at the people at the top that are not in the schools every day. It is hard to be compassionate and empathetic. In the end we should have always knew these days can't legally "count". But we should also know that the number of instructional days counted does not determine what counts for a child's education. Everything we are doing counts.