A second grader in Georgia tested positive for COVID-19. A second grader. I taught second grade for several years, and this is just awful. How many other people have been exposed? The answer is everyone who has been in the school.
I’ve taught many children with significant support needs and others with serious illnesses. Some have had severe autism, microcephaly, asthma, significant allergies, compromised immune systems, ADHD, and more. To expose these children and their peers to COVID-19 is beyond irresponsible.
My teaching colleagues have dedicated themselves to children, and many have chronic illnesses that put them at greater risk for acquiring coronavirus. Back in March, schools went to remote learning, and people experienced how difficult teaching is. Parents experienced the challenge of teaching their own children without any training, and they voiced deep appreciation for educators. Now policymakers around the nation are sending teachers into schools that will result in some of them dying.
Teachers went from heroes to dispensable babysitters in the blink of an eye.
Teachers aren’t the only people who work in schools. There are secretaries, principals, speech therapists, counselors, psychologists, security, physical therapists, occupational therapists, aides, food service, and more. Nurses who are well trained to deal with sick children and building maintenance experts who keep facilities clean and safe are highly exposed to the virus.
All school staff are underpaid and use their own money to give students what they need to learn: supplies, clothes, and food. During the pandemic, most teachers will be required to buy their own PPE, and they will also purchase PPE for many of their students.
Schools are germ factories. When colds and flu viruses sweep through campus, kids and staff get sick. As a teacher, I’ve wiped noses, gotten sneezed on, be spat on in my face, cleaned vomit, wiped up blood. All this happens in every school daily.
It is unrealistic for anyone to expect students to wear masks and other PPE consistently. I’ve witnessed students lick desks, lick trash cans, put their hands in each others noses and mouths, eat pencils, put pencils in their noses, wipe boogers everywhere, cough on each other, spit on the floor, and other things you wouldn’t believe. Students may have the virus but be asymptomatic; their usual behaviors will spread the coronavirus throughout their schools.
Teachers have their own families — spouses, partners, children, parents, roommates, friends. Teachers will worry about passing the virus to their loved ones or leaving them because they’ve died due to a COVID-19 infection. Also, how will teachers be able to take off two weeks to quarantine if they become exposed to the virus? Will policymakers provide paid leave?
Teachers know it’s a privilege to work in public schools. If you’re there, it’s because you’re dedicated to children — because you are sorely underpaid. Teacher would prefer to be in their classrooms instead of creating online lessons. This is especially true for the primary grades who need in-person instruction. However, it is unrealistic to put millions of people into schools across the country and not expect spikes in this deadly pandemic.
In most cases, districts and administrators are doing everything they can to ensure safe learning environments. But it all costs money they do not have. If elected officials (especially at the federal level) are requiring face-to-face instruction, they need to provide adequate funding to keep people as safe as possible.
Remote learning has expenses and challenges too, especially for low-wealth communities.
Governors, state boards of education, and local boards have extraordinarily difficult decisions to make. They have federal mandates to meet and state laws to follow. They worry about budgets, funding, and lawsuits.
Policymakers should be as dedicated to the safety and welfare of children as teachers are, and they should be dedicated to the educators that they were praising just a couple months ago.
So, for elected policymakers to require face-to-face instruction and not provide resources to keep students and staff safe is to ensure that many will become sick, some will die, and the pandemic will keep spreading.