School days, decision haze

Sherri Gardner HowellBlount, Farragut, Kitchen Table Talk, West Knox

Listening to friends and family with children in the Tennessee school system reminds me of the NBC game show “The Wall.”


I don’t like the show. The emotions run too high for me to enjoy a bad outcome, which seems to be the case most of the time. I’m more of a “Jeopardy”-Alex Trebek-no nonsense game show fan.

The correlation to feelings surrounding the back-to-school decisions lies in the Green balls and Red balls. Contestants on “The Wall” get to drop green balls that land in money slots, adding to their bank account. But they also have to drop Red balls that land in money slots, subtracting from their bank account.

So it seems with parents, teachers and family of school children. We want the good, necessary things: safety for our children and teachers; communal, in-person teaching from qualified personnel; social interaction with other children, which is one of the best ways young children learn; the kids out of the house for work-at-home as well as parental sanity reasons. Those are our Green balls. They all add to a good educational experience for our children.

Making up the Red balls, unfortunately, is what many believe are the things that should be done to increase the probability of the No. 1 goal: Safety of our children and teachers: Masks, temperature and health checks daily, social distancing, possibly decreasing time in the classroom and no standardized tests, for starters.

Just like on “The Wall,” the big question is will we end up in the positive or negative at the end of the day?

Knox County guidelines come out today. I am sure they will be hated and loved, praised and reviled. While everyone agrees that this year, safety is Job No. 1, there will be a varieties of opinions on which the paths to follow to achieve that goal while still providing an equitable, quality school year for our children.

I’m not sure there is a “right” answer. It’s an unprecedented time, and we’re dropping green and red balls that bounce around like crazy. I have been praying for our decision-makers. I have been thankful the decisions can be made on a local level, giving it a little distance from the politics of COVID-19

If I have any advice for my friends and family who are on the front lines with children or as teachers, it is this: This is one year. Do what you believe is best for your child within the guidelines that are given. We’ll get through this.

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.

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