Better Utah Op-Ed

Katie Matheson: Parents should not face pandemic alone

This article originally appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune. Read it in its entirety here.

I’m a parent. And like many parents, I often struggle to know what is best for my kids. That comes with the territory of parenting regardless of global events, but is especially true during a pandemic.

My latest challenge — knowing whether or not to send my kid to in-person school next month — is particularly confounding, and I know a lot of other parents are struggling with the same issue.

My oldest child is 5. He’s been excited to attend school ever since he learned what school was, but he may have his first year of school taken from him. With so much uncertainty surrounding COVID and school this fall, we’re faced with an impossible decision of whether or not to send him. Not necessarily because of COVID, but because of how completely unprepared schools are to handle the sickness safely.

I’m terrified for my kids. And, like so many parents, I’m furious.

I’m furious because my choices for where and how to school my kids safely have been taken away from me. I’m furious because I’ve lost the freedom to send my child to school without fear of a fatal illness. I’m furious because the choices and freedom of families across the state have been strangled by the Herbert and Cox administration’s failure to take the necessary steps to adequately address this public health crisis months ago.

My husband and I are lucky enough to have a situation where one of us works while the other stays home with the kids. We have a deep gratitude and respect for public education, and I know that single-parent and working-class families in Utah feel that same appreciation ten-fold.

Public education is arguably the most important and valuable gift our children will receive to help them live happy and healthy lives. It’s one of the most important tools we have to help everyone live the American Dream. The fact that we have public schools for all children — regardless of their parent’s income level — is one of the most powerful programs we have to create opportunity for single-parent and working families. And now these families — like all families with children who attend school — are feeling the entire weight of the pandemic on their shoulders.

None of us should have to make decisions like the ones we’re now being forced to make. We shouldn’t have to deal with pandemic response because, one, it’s impossible for a single person to handle mass illness, and two, because we elected politicians to do it.

Busy parents who have bills to pay, families to care for, jobs to work, lives to live, are now being forced to also become experts in epidemiology, risk assessment and school rules, while also balancing the financial challenges of their families. Having adequate expertise in so many areas is a full-time job, and when we elect politicians, we give them access to the necessary resources to become those experts because it’s their job.

Instead, each individual parent is being forced to head up their own personal pandemic response because — like a hot potato — our elected officials have decided they don’t want to deal with the politics of it. So now parents have to bear the brunt of the political debates for something as simple as sending their kids to school safely. We’re picking up the slack for Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.

Imagine if a mass zombie outbreak happened in Utah. Imagine if government had the knowledge, resources and weapons to handle it, but decided not to use those resources and instead want individuals to make decisions for themselves.

The choices left to individuals are restricted because the government already let the zombies run rampant. We elected those officials to use the resources — resources we all pay for, by the way — when a zombie apocalypse happens. But the elected officials have decided to push that responsibility onto each individual family unit, which is not only the worst way possible to handle a mass outbreak, but is also incredibly unfair to the people who elected those government officials for the express purpose of taking charge of things like a massive zombie outbreak.

Hopefully, COVID will be the worst disaster Utah ever faces. But in the disaster we’re facing right now, Utah politicians have left parents and kids to sink or swim in dangerous waters alone without adequate resources. If we want anything to change, we must remember this colossal abandonment come November.

This article originally appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune. Read it in its entirety here.

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