Reopening Schools: We Can’t Forget About Teachers And Support Staff

In Our Desire To Get Kids Back To School, It’s Selfish To Not Consider The Health/Safety Of Educators

June 26, 2020 Updated June 29, 2020

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Like so many parents, even though fall is still a few months away, I’ve been thinking non-stop about WTF is going to happen when (and if) schools reopen. Will my kids’ school district be able to offer options that seem educationally and socially appropriate while also keeping my kids safe? Could we handle another potentially disastrous few months of distance learning? What would the risks be to my children if I did end up sending them back?

My instinct right now is that there is no way returning to school can be made safe enough for me to send my children back. I mean, enclosed spaces are known vectors of COVID-19, and half of the grown ups I see walking around town can’t properly wear a mask—how the heck would a room full of third graders pull this off? I just can’t imagine that school would be a safe or a happy place for my kids.

But. The other thing that I don’t really talk about is that my husband is a teacher, and I’m worried sick about him having to go back to work. My husband loves his job, and his students love him back. His school has very successfully implemented distance learning and he diligently sat at his desk at home from March-June delivering awesome virtual lessons to his middle school students.

The idea that he may be forced to go back to work before it’s 100% safe –or potentially risk losing his job if he declines to return—is something that keeps me up at night.

My husband is a relatively healthy 42 year-old man with no underlying health conditions. I can only imagine the stresses and anxiety older teachers are feeling right now—or any teacher with an underlying health condition that makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Why are we leaving teachers out of the conversation about reopening schools?

Now, like you, I have read the studies and stories out there explaining that children aren’t major vectors of COVID-19. Sure, they get sick, but they are less likely to transmit the virus to others. 

But besides the fact that even one transmission from a child to a teacher (or bus driver or school secretary or other support staff member) could be an actual death sentence and risking even one life is not okay, I want to remind you that there is just so much we don’t know about COVID-19. After all, it’s a novel virus—meaning it’s brand spanking new.

Sure, there have been daycares and other small educational groups that we know of in the U.S. that have opened and not spread the virus. But that is different from opening entire schools, and opening thousands of them at once in a country that will still likely be reeling from the virus.

We all know that schools are literally germ factories. Can you imagine the damage that may come if there are school outbreaks all over the country? NYC public schools alone, where the country’s largest outbreak of COVID-19 happened this spring, houses over 1 million students. Think about that for a second.

You can just look at other countries outside the U.S. to find that opening schools is definitely not without zero risk. According to The Times Of Israel, a recent major outbreak of COVID-19 was traced to the country’s public schools, and transmitted among students and teachers.

“Much of the resurgence of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has been blamed on the education system, which has seen hundreds of new cases confirmed in schools and kindergartens,” explains The Times Of Israel.

In this latest outbreak, 635 students and educational staff were infected.

635. That’s a whole hell of a lot of students and staff, all of whom likely brought the virus home to their families.

When We Talk About Reopening Schools, We Can’t Forget About The Teachers And Support Staff
liza aksenova/Reshot

Similar scenarios have been reported in places like France and Canada. In May, 70 cases of COVID-19 were linked to reopened French schools. In Canada, almost an entire class of kids was infected, including one staff member—and this was with preventative protocols such as hand washing and social distancing. 

This. Is. Not. Okay.

Let me remind you that about 29% of teachers are 50 or older, putting them in the age bracket where their risk of becoming severely ill or dying from COVID-19 is extremely high. Not to mention the fact that teachers of all ages live with underlying conditions, or care for children or family members who are in vulnerable groups.

Teachers are wonderful and will do anything for their students, but they do not get paid enough to risk their lives. It’s no wonder that, according to USA Today, 1 in 5 teachers say they are unlikely to return in the fall, should schools open. Factor this into the fact that in order for us to even have a shot at providing small enough class sizes and safe transportation options for students, we would likely need to hire more teachers and staff member, not fewer.

And you can imagine what would happen if we reopened schools prematurely, and then had to close right back up a few weeks later? That’s a whole lot of work hoisted on teachers. Not only would have they have to transform their classrooms and class routines to meet COVID-19 school reopening guidelines (which, by the way, sound very difficult, if not impossible, to implement). But then, they’d have to pivot right back to distance learning, in a pinch, just as they did this past spring.

Again, way too much to ask a teacher to shoulder.

I don’t have all the answers when it comes to returning to school. This is probably the biggest crisis that our generation has ever dealt with. But I know that leaving our wonderful teachers out of the conversation is not acceptable, and frankly, selfish and disrespectful—and that we need to do whatever we can to keep them safe as well.