The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to a variety of culture war clashes over how to return life back to normal. And one of the biggest flashpoints concerns sending students back to school.
Some parents and politicians favor sending students back. They argue that children need a sense of normality and time among their friends.
Others see returning the children as a ticking time bomb. In their eyes, these schools are a viral explosion just waiting to happen.
As usual, the nation turns its eyes towards the president. His youngest son Barron Trump is 14 years old and should be entering the ninth grade at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School.
But as it turns out, Barron Trump may not return to school in the fall!
Barron and his family are no strangers to educational drama. Previously, Melania raised a number of eyebrows when she delayed moving into the White House. At the time, the reason she gave was that she wanted Barron to complete the school year in New York before making the major move to Washington, D.C.
Later, it was alleged that Melania’s delayed move was more about renegotiating her prenup agreement than anything else, according to Mary Jordan in her book The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump. But publicly making the conversation about Barron’s education increased the current fervor to know what Barron’s fall education will look like.
An expensive education
After leaving New York, Donald and Melania Trump knew they couldn’t enroll Barron just anywhere. They decided to send him to Maryland’s exclusive St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, which costs a cool $44,000 per year. Educators justify the high cost by emphasizing their devotion to the quality of the student’s education and campus experiences.
The school has a high profile and this added weight to their COVID-19 deliberations. They needed to find a compromise that would provide the education parents were paying for while keeping children as safe as possible.
Schools face a decision
What does the fanciest private school and the humblest public school have in common? Schools everywhere have had to wrestle with the best way to approach education in a post-COVID world.
At Barron’s school, the debate narrowed to two main options. The first option is to do school entirely via remote learning. This is the safest option, but the diminished student experience may make parents reexamine what those hefty tuition checks are really paying for.
The second option is to open the campus up with additional safety options, including masks and social distancing. This is more like the traditional school experience, but it poses some risk to Barron and other students.
There is one kind of pressure that St. Andrew’s Episcopal School was under that no other school faced. And that’s pressure from the president of the United States!
On July 7, Donald Trump made his thoughts on opening schools crystal clear. “We want to reopen the schools,” he said in remarks at the White House. “Everybody wants it. The moms want it, the dads want it, the kids want it. It’s time to do it… We want to get them open quickly, beautifully, in the fall.”
Needless to say, it’s difficult to delay re-opening your school when the most powerful person in the world is demanding that we try to get back to life as normal.
Melania chimes in
Historically, Melania Trump has spent a lot more time with Barron than Donald Trump has. Because of this, her thoughts on whether schools should re-open or not may carry a bit more weight.
In this case, though, she and Donald really see eye to eye. On July 7, she made the following statement: “When children are out of school, they are missing more than just time in the classroom. They’re missing the laughter of their friends, learning from their teachers, and the joy of recess and play. For children with disabilities, without access to technology or whose homes are not a safe place, the situation can be even worse.”
Her comments are both persuasive and savvy. For students without a certain level of technological access, “remote learning” may translate to “no learning.”
Ivanka’s two cents
Ivanka Trump is often a source of controversy, but this didn’t keep her from chiming in on this issue. Interestingly, she focused on the potential economic impact of keeping schools closed.
On July 7, Ivanka tweeted, “Single mothers will disproportionately bear the burden of school closures in the form of lower pay, less job security and general overwhelm in part because work in jobs without the option of telecommuting. We must prioritize safely reopening America’s schools.”
Ivanka’s words are strong, though it’s unclear whether she is sending her daughter back to school in the fall.
Barron’s school makes a decision
So, what did Barron’s school decide to do? Ultimately, they decided on a compromise that almost everyone could agree on.
In a statement released on August 6, St. Andrew’s head of school Robert Kosasky declared that the school will be utilizing remote learning through at least October 9. This gives them more time to assess the public threat of COVID and either transition back to in-person instruction or explore additional options.
“We have the duty and determination to care for everyone in our school: each St. Andrew’s student and family, and every teacher and staff member who has dedicated their life to our school. Our community members come to campus from across the Greater Washington region, and we each return home to our families and loved ones every evening. In this time more than ever, we must care for the health and well-being of every Lion. We belong, and must be responsible, to each other,” the statement reads.
“For these reasons, our Board of Trustees and I have decided that St. Andrew’s will begin the year in our distance learning model for Kindergarten-Grade 12 through at least October 9.”
When it comes to whether Barron will actually set foot on campus in the fall, there is but one answer: only time will tell.