I covered two important events in the world of Long Beach schools last week, and they helped me chart the course for how I’m going to try and navigate the rest of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday, I was in attendance for the Long Beach Unified School District’s Board of Education meeting. At the meeting, LBUSD boardmembers and staff were discussing what next week’s return to school will look like, as well as the safety precautions being put in place by the district. It was a reminder of how quickly things can change–at the end of the meeting, LBUSD superintendent Jill Baker announced that the district will test unvaccinated students for COVID-19 weekly, something they’d previously said they weren’t planning to do.
The meeting was also a reminder of how frayed and exhausted our normally tight community is. A small protest outside against masks in classrooms also produced a stream of citizens there for public comment, a group that included LBUSD teachers and parents accusing the district of child abuse and human rights violations for following LA County guidelines regarding masking in classrooms. One speaker, a self-identified LBUSD employee, refused to leave the room after commenting and had to be convinced to do so by LBUSD security officers while the Board took a recess.
I have covered at least a few school board meetings a year for the last 14 years I’ve been a sportswriter, and I’ve never seen anything like it.
The next night I was at Jordan High, where the Panthers won a thrilling overtime football game, 47-46, against Kennedy High. It was a special night for the players and the coaches, but also for the drumline, band, cheerleaders and the other students and staff on hand. It was a special night for me, too, and exactly the antidote I needed to the sense of hopelessness I was carrying with me following the Board meeting.
None of us knows what this school year or this football season is going to hold. The same week I was enjoying Jordan’s game, two of the Moore League’s seven schools (Long Beach Poly and Lakewood) were both sitting idle because of COVID-19-related shutdowns. When The 562 crew were gathered for dinner on Friday before that evening’s games, we planned out our week two coverage and had to remind ourselves that any one of the games we’re hoping to cover could be delayed or canceled. (Indeed, the day after I wrote this column we got word that Wilson won’t play this week)
But the Jordan game was a great reminder: we’ve made progress in this pandemic from where we were in the Fall of 2020. Kids are playing football and having fun and making memories this August, instead of sitting home hoping for a miracle. Next week, close to 70,000 kids will go back to school in person, double the number that saw a campus in the 2019-20 school year. Those things are worth appreciating, and celebrating.
We can say with almost certainty that last week’s Poly and Lakewood games won’t be the last sporting events canceled due to COVID-19. I’m just as certain that some of the kids who have their first day of school next week won’t get to attend every single day of instruction in person this year. That’s a clear-eyed assessment of how things are in this moment.
But at the same time, I’m happy for the progress. After watching Jordan football players tackle each other and dance around their coach, I couldn’t help but feel that way. As they did, the cheerleaders cheered and the band played and the crowd went crazy.
I understand people who are exhausted or frustrated by the fact that the pandemic isn’t over–although I don’t understand taking those frustrations out with abusive language or over-the-line comments. But I also understand that the way to cure anxiety is with appreciation, and the way to calm fears and frustrations about the future is to live in the present. So, every Friday this Autumn for as long as we’re able to, I’ll take a moment during the national anthem to give thanks for the night before me–for the wins and losses that we get to cover, and the games we’re lucky enough to have once again in Long Beach.