Care and Feeding

My Special Education Colleague Is a COVID-Denying Anti-Vaxxer. Should I Warn the Principal?

Her Facebook posts are unhinged, and I’m worried about what she’ll say to autistic students and their parents.

Woman looking upset by what she is reading on a tablet computer.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

So recently I was Facebook-friended by a special education teacher with whom I share students. Based on her posts, she is a hard-core anti-vaxxer QAnon conspiracy theorist: Vaccines cause autism, COVID-19 is a Democratic hoax, a celebrity lost weight because of “adrenochrome,” and these are just examples from her posts today. I have an autistic son, so I’m not shy about setting people straight when it comes to misconceptions about autism and vaccines. I’ve gotten into a few arguments with her, but there’s honestly so many posts I can’t keep up.

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She’s mentioned some anti-vaxxer stuff to me in passing at work, and I’ve just brushed it off. Here’s the problem: Next school year (if that’s even a thing), she’s moving to teach in the structured special education classroom with students with significant disabilities. Several of these students are autistic and nonverbal. I worry she’s going to push her beliefs on them and/or their parents. She is also a young single mom who’s been a victim of domestic violence. I don’t want her to lose her job. Should I give my principal a heads-up or unfriend her and mind my business? I’m going to unfriend her regardless.

—I Mean, Yikes

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Dear IMY,

I share your “yikes” very strongly, and I am glad you are unfriending her. I don’t think that arguing with people on Facebook is a great tool for changing hearts and minds, and also your own emotional well-being will be better served by “I’ve decided it’s best to keep my social media presence and my work life separate.”

To me, this is a watch-and-wait. I share your desire not to get someone fired, particularly someone in a vulnerable position, and it is not necessarily the case that because she has talked to you about these things at work (which is unprofessional) that she will attempt to run her mouth at her students and their parents. It is also … very possible that she will. Keep your ears open. I would rather have you approach your principal with an actual inappropriate in-class/in-the-hallways conversation than just a “saying wild shit on Facebook” situation. Our nation’s classrooms have a lot of teachers with terrible, ill-informed opinions who manage not to bring them to their students. See also: workplaces in general.

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If you are very close with your principal, and you have a trusted relationship with them, I think you could potentially say: “Hey, I wouldn’t even mention this had she not previously brought it up with me in the workplace, but now that Sarah is going to be working with our special education students, I’m a little concerned she may give her students and parents some extremely inappropriate and unsolicited advice about vaccines, etc., and a quick conversation now about acceptable boundaries could head off some complaints later.”

If your relationship with your principal is not one that you think this sort of conversation would be seen for what it ideally is—a valuable heads-up, not a personal beef, not an overall denunciation of this person as an educator—then just listen, watch, and enjoy not being her friend on Facebook in the meantime.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We have a sensitive, spirited 4-year-old daughter who has been in the same in-home day care since she was 3 months old. She loves the owner and her family and is close with two of the kids near her age (there are six in total). She’s gotten great care, knows all her letters and numbers, etc., so we were lazy about looking for a preschool … until February … for spots in the summer and fall.

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We figured she should get at least a year of pre-K before kindergarten. She got a spot in a nice preschool near our house, starting in July. Then the world shut down, and we’ve all been home for seven weeks. Day care is now open, but we’ll keep her home until at least late May or early June, and she’s supposed to start at this school in July. My wife wants to put her back in the day care she knows, and maybe move her to the preschool later, like August or the fall, or never, until kindergarten. I have some reasons for wanting her in a pre-K: getting her ready for a classroom, spotting potential learning issues before kindergarten, being around a larger group of kids (she’s the dramatic center of attention at day care).

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Socially, the other day care families are a group of friends, so we’re the only outliers who don’t hang out, which has caused some issues in the past (we never got invited to play dates, they plan theme days and don’t tell us, etc.), which makes me wish for a bigger, or at least, different, circle of kids and parents. But my wife has a point, and life is different than it was before COVID-19. Our daughter is doing well at home, but she’s lonely and bored and misses her friends. Times are weird and comfort is important. Will it be damaging to keep her in a day care until kindergarten? Will it be a big issue if she starts later than the “start” date of her pre-K? Am I neglecting to teach her about resilience or whatever?

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—Is Pre-K That Important

Dear IPKTI,

Short answer: No, pre-K is not that important. Plenty of kids roll into kindergarten who have never spent time in any sort of day care or preschool environment every year. If she is returning to a day care she enjoys, and which (garden-variety parental drama aside) has suited your needs, I don’t think she’s going to be horribly underserved by that environment.

Do you have any concerns about her development? Does her pediatrician? If you do, focus on that. The main function of day care and preschool is largely to accustom kids to being around other children, taking turns, sharing, etc. Now, having just given you permission to stick with your home day care if that’s ultimately what you and your wife decide is best for your family, let me also advocate for your own stance. Kindergarten is more academic than it used to be.
It’s not just Play-Doh and water tables anymore. Kids who enter kindergarten from a more structured learning environment will have a smoother transition. I encourage you to think about the local kindergarten your child will attend, get on the phone with them, and ask about the skills they expect children, generally speaking, to arrive with. Are those skills and milestones things your daughter is working on in day care? Are they things you can work on at home as a supplement to what she does at day care? Or are they things you think she’d best acquire in pre-K?

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None of us know what the world will look like in the fall. I am asking you questions so you can start thinking about them now and be ready to address when these environments begin to reopen. I don’t think it will do your daughter any harm to enter pre-K late (and I suspect many parents may be enrolling their children late), but I cannot guarantee the spaces will be there when you decide you want them.

If I were you (I’m not), I would seriously consider spending the fall “semester” with your daughter in day care, and enrolling, once possible, for next spring’s pre-K cohort, as a reasonable familial compromise. You will maximize the time spent in a smaller environment, but you will also have a chance to expose your daughter to the sort of more scheduled day that will serve her well when she starts real kindergarten.

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• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a single gay man in his late 20s, and I really want a child—probably more than one. Ideally, I would like to begin this process with a guy I like.

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Over the last several years, my desire to have a kid/kids has gone from something I thought I might enjoy to something I feel very strongly about, with no signs of abating, so I don’t want to wait until I’m in too deep with a guy to bring this potential “deal breaker” up.

What’s your advice for how to broach this with men? Do I say something on a first or second date, save it until a few (or a few dozen) dates in, or wait until we’ve been married for a decade? How do men/women address this in heterosexual relationships? Should I be clear from the beginning about any preferences regarding adoption versus a surrogate? Suggestions for good first names?

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It’s not time-sensitive, because I’m single and, you know, COVID-19, but I’m curious.

—Baby Crazy

Dear BC,

I think that unless it comes up organically on a first date (and it might! Gay men can catch Baby Rabies like anyone else!), a third date is likely the perfect time to say “becoming a parent in the next x years is a major goal of mine, and I plan to do that with a partner. If that’s totally not on your horizon, that’s cool, but I thought I’d give you the chance to bail now if you’re not looking for that kind of relationship.” Straight people do it all the time. I did it, he said, “That’s my timeline too,” we both felt awkward for a few minutes, and now we’ve been married for 10 years and have three kids. It’s not offensive, it’s a LITTLE pushy; but when you know what you want, you know what you want.

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Wait until the main course arrives, though. And the surrogate/adoption question is for when you’re in a committed relationship. Don’t break out a measuring tape on your first sleepover to see if his home office can fit a crib. I also encourage you to cast a wide and deliberate net for potential long-term partners. Plenty of men have wound up happily married with babies with a guy they met on Grindr, but you may have more success asking friends to set you up with people in their lives they know beyond a (very flattering) torso shot.

I wish you a beautiful life, and I hope and believe you can find a lovely man who is as excited to have children as you are. “Nicole” is a wonderful name for a child, as is “Nicholas.”

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If this answer is not as useful as you would like, write back, and we’ll have Rumaan take a crack at it. I will not be offended.

When Is It Time to Finally Attempt an At-Home Haircut?

Dan Kois, Jamilah Lemieux, and Elizabeth Newcamp host this week’s episode of Slate’s parenting podcast, Mom and Dad Are Fighting.

Dear Care and Feeding,

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My husband and I are at a point where we are seriously discussing trying for kids. We’ve often talked about parenthood, and it’s always been something we’ve wanted, but this is the first time we’ve entered the realm of “maybe we should go for this and see what happens.” Which is great! But I still have a tiny bit of hesitancy (in addition to the normal awareness of knowing that this could change everything) because my husband is not particularly interested in newborns/babies. He’s been around kids enough to know that he likes being around them once they are over a year old.

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I happen to love babies, so when this was just a hypothetical scenario, this didn’t seem like as big a deal. He’s expressed that he’s not really invested in the, well, care and feeding of the kid during that first year, and while he does plan on helping out (and has also said he’d take up more of the other household duties), I still think more of the effort/time would fall on me. A bit of potentially relevant info: My husband is on the spectrum and also has a pretty good sense of how he works. Friends have suggested that he’ll be swept up in the magic of fatherhood once a baby arrives, but I honestly don’t see that happening.

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For what it’s worth, I don’t think he’ll be a slacker dad or anything, but I do worry about our different levels of investment. I guess my question boils down to what can I reasonably expect a dad to do during that first year … even one that’s not crazy about babies?

—Division of Labor

Dear DoL,

I think that this is going to be a question of being very, very specific as time progresses. I encourage this for everyone weighing the “who will do what” aspect of child care, but it’s especially important for a dad on the spectrum who is very upfront about Not Being a Baby Person.

For what it’s worth, I’m always happier to hear “I really want to be a parent, but I’m freaked out by newborns” than “I love babies.” That first year is a real blur. The baby phase, although something I personally love, is very short, and many, many parents don’t really blossom until they can interact more reciprocally with their kid beyond “what does THIS kind of noise mean the baby wants?”

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Talk now, before you’re hormonal, about what precisely “more of the other household duties” looks like. You’ll be working it out on your feet, like everyone else, but the more you can do now to divide tasks before you have GRIEVANCES, the better. There are also a lot of baby-related jobs that he can take on which aren’t “hands-on”: a dad who finds a pediatrician and makes the well-baby appointments and researches the cribs and buys the Diaper Genie and makes sure you have refills and waterproof mattress covers is doing excellent baby care.

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We all wish things would happen without asking for them. It just doesn’t work very well. There’s rarely anything you can say about autistic people that is applicable to All Autistic People, but, oh boy, we love being given clear information. Most people do! If you need something, ask for it. Don’t get utterly swamped by baby care because he’s not a baby person. Once you have a baby, you are in this together.

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— Nicole

More Advice From Slate

I’m getting married next spring to an amazing guy, and I have two cocker spaniels I’ve had since before I met him. He loves them, but they’re my dogs—I pay for everything involving them and I’m the primary caretaker. I love my fiancé and I trust him more than anyone else in the world, but I want to have some sort of agreement in place that if we should ever split, the dogs would stay with me. When I was 13, my parents had a messy divorce and our three family dogs were sent to the shelter when my parents couldn’t reach a settlement. I was devastated, and the idea of that ever possibly happening to my beloved dogs makes me tear up. Would it be absurd of me to bring this up with my fiancé?

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