Texas Attorney Shares His Family’s Covid Quandaries

Sept. 29, 2021, 8:00 AM

Like most parents, I spend my fair share of time worrying about my kids. We have three: a six-year-old son, a four-year-old daughter, and a pandemic baby who turned one in April. (We also have a geriatric rescue dog, but that’s another column.)

And like many lawyers, I also spend my fair share of time worrying about—and seeking to prevent—worst-case scenarios. As an appellate lawyer, worrying is both an occupational hazard and a career path.

So I can commiserate with countless lawyers and parents across America who, like my wife and I, spent a hefty amount of time analyzing and then re-analyzing every plausible legal and health scenario in the days leading up to the start of the school year—as coronavirus raged in our community and our political leaders jousted at press conferences and in courtrooms.

It’s my understanding that although Pfizer has indicated that its vaccine is safe for five-to-12 year old children, the federal government has not yet approved the vaccine for emergency use (although its approval is anticipated). We will absolutely get our six-year-old son vaccinated as soon as we can, but our two daughters will remain ineligible for the time being. Having accessible vaccines will very likely impact our decisions for schooling next year.

State vs. County Requirements

However, our Governor, Greg Abbott (R), has issued an executive order banning public schools from requiring masks. A county judge has ordered our local public schools to require masks. And our local school district has waffled—issuing not even a request for students to wear masks in the weeks leading up to the start of school, and then mandating masks at the eleventh hour before the school year began. (Our school district now has a mask mandate that it chooses not to enforce.)

Our concerns were magnified by our unique circumstances. My wife, Sarah, has had asthma since childhood and so does our six-year-old son, who has virus-induced asthma. What presents as an ordinary common cold for most kids has led to pneumonia for him, sometimes weeks of coughing, and bouts of congestion, and coughing so severe that he has struggled to breathe, much less sleep, between coughs at night.

Between our son’s asthma and having a baby in the house, we’ve stayed solidly on the more risk-averse side of the Covid-19 precaution spectrum.

The possibility of being a vector for someone else getting the virus also wears on us. We know that we and our kids are highly likely to survive it, but what if, down the line from us, someone doesn’t? We’ve chosen to sacrifice some of our freedoms to significantly reduce the risk of causing suffering to someone else. That’s not to say we don’t have plenty of friends who disagree with us.

Where did that leave us as to our schooling decision? We wanted our children to attend public schools (we moved into our school district for the public schools, my wife and I are products of public schools, and my wife is a former public school teacher), but we also wanted our kids to go to schools where masks are required—at least during the highest stages of the pandemic (where we remain in Austin).

Because we did not feel that our local schools would end up requiring masks, we enrolled our oldest in a small private school with strict Covid-19 protocols. We recognize that option is a privilege not available to most.

The stress and strain on everyone—parent or not—seems palpable right now. Many of our family members and friends have had and recovered from the virus. Some of our friends have buried loved ones from it. And although some of our closest friends and colleagues haven’t meaningfully changed their routines and habits during the pandemic, most have. Many are struggling.

So I guess this is a long-winded way of saying, if you’re stressed out and struggling right now, we hear you and we’re in this together. The stress of being a parent or lawyer (or both) is hard enough in normal times, but we are not in normal times.

Check in with your friends, your loved ones, and your colleagues. And whenever you can, practice grace. That person on the other side of the phone, or of your docket, may be shouldering a heavy burden.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owner.

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Ryan Clinton is an appellate lawyer with a Texas Supreme Court practice in Austin, Texas. He is a shareholder at Davis, Gerald & Cremer, a Texas litigation boutique, and a former Texas Assistant Solicitor General.

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