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Reopening Schools

Haley Arnold, Publications Director

August 15, 2020

In a few weeks, millions of students will be returning to school for the fall. Despite the current COVID-19 pandemic with cases on the rise again, most schools are planning on having at least some in-person learning. For parents, this requires them to make a tough decision on whether or not to send their children to school- or to opt for online only options.

Online learning would prevent the students from contracting and spreading the virus, which would protect others-quality online education, it is hard to get the same results as in-person teaching. To make matters more confusing, many parents are going back to work and cannot be home to assist their children or afford childcare. This will be a hard decision for many families and there is a large population that will be affected by schools re-opening that do not get a choice. If teachers want to keep their job and get paid their salary, they must return to school in the Fall.

The average age of the 3.7 million teachers in the U.S. is 42 years old, and a third of teachers are over 50 years old which makes them high risk. 92% of COVID-19 deaths have been in adults 55 years and older. These are scary statistics for many teachers and their families, and leave them with many unanswered questions. Not only will teachers be at risk, but their partners, their own children, parents, or others that they are in contact with will be at risk of coming in contact with the virus. The many bus drivers, janitors, cafeteria workers and other staff it takes to keep a school running will also be.

To help me answer some questions about the current positions teachers are in, I was able to interview a teacher from a small town in Colorado. For the sake of her privacy and the unknown about the next school year, I will be keeping her name and school district anonymous. As of right now, her school’s plan is as follows; “Our school district will have schools open as normal with in-person learning, regular school hours, Monday through Friday starting August 24th. Parents also have the option of having their children do 100% online school at home from an outside source. Masks will be required at school for adults, but only for children 11 and older. Social distancing of at least t is recommended, but It’s up to . No precautious health checks at the schools will be performed. No COVID tests will be required for staff or students before they start back. A school or classroom may go to remote learning for 3-14 days if a student tests positive for the virus. Teachers will continue with teaching their students remotely over zoom from home and will get paid as if they were in the classroom in these instances and will return to the classroom after the 3-14 days. With the school being in a small town, the teachers there are paid much less than some of the bigger districts, and there are very few businesses that provide tax-based funding for the schools.

If staff get sick, they “will have to use their sick days and may not file for worker’s compensation.” “The district is not liable for any COVID sickness or deaths in staff or students.” Both herself and her partner are in the high-risk category for contracting the virus, and currently, “there is no online teaching option for high-risk teachers.” Her and her partner have manysick days saved up that they have accumulated over years of teaching. They are currently waiting to hear back on if they can use those sick days to take a leave until there is a vaccine. However, many teachers don’t have any sick days saved up, so if they don’t feel safe going back to 100% in-person learning. In addition, she explains “Some teachers have quit because either they or someone in their immediate family is at high risk for COVID complications.”

Being in a small town might sound safer than a big city; however, that doesn’t mean there are no cases. The idea that the virus is a hoax is common there, and there is a large anti-mask movement. In addition, “some of the residents have been vacationing in high COVID case states over the summer without taking measures to protect themselves from the virus.” When they and their families come back and return to school, it’s possible they could have brought it with them. Their school also has tiny windows and no air conditioning, making it difficult to create any airflow, and there is a chance that many students and adults will not take the safety precautions seriously in a town that does not strongly believe in protecting their residents.

As we creep closer and closer to the start of the school year, teachers are anxiously waiting to hear back on decisions regarding what they can do for their own safety, and many are wondering what they will do for income if they must quit. It is not uncommon for teachers to be overlooked in situations like this. Our country is often hesitant to acknowledge the hard work teachers put into their job- and forgets to provide teachers fair resources and opportunities. Teachers play a crucial role in the development of our country and teaching students who can go on to help solve issues like this pandemic, yet the concern for their safety and income is not a priority.

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