I have a question for the school boards and administrators who have decided that we should go back to 100% in-person learning this fall: How many teacher deaths are you OK with?
In my 10 years as a teacher I’ve come to terms with the more unsavory aspects of the profession: standardized testing, mountains of busy work mandated by lawmakers with no educational experience, and even the possibility of confronting a gunman as I huddle with 25 fifth-graders in a corner of my room during our yearly drills.
In spite of those unpleasant tasks, I keep coming back each year. At the end of the day, I have a lot of fun at my job. I celebrate my students’ victories, I cry when they experience tragedy and I laugh with them constantly. I get really excited when I learn about a new way to teach something and can’t wait to try it with my class. I love adorning my room with Marvel decor and, at the start of the year, watching Netflix while I go about my classroom making sure everything is in place for the first days of school.
Ultimately, I want to be back in the building.
But what I want and what is necessary are two very different things. Each passing day is met with more news and more apprehension about the ongoing pandemic. I read about Nick Cordero, a healthy and fit actor who succumbed to COVID-19 after the virus ravaged his body for 95 days. I read about the three teachers in Arizona who contracted COVID-19 during summer school, killing one of them. I read about the 74 New York Department of Education employees (30 teachers among them) who have died from the virus. I also read countless horror stories from people who had “mild” cases and are still dealing with the permanent damage the virus has done to their bodies.
And now Gov. Jared Polis, along with many school district leaders, is ready to open our buildings back up.
There is a long list of questions for school boards currently circulating the Internet. Each and every question on these comprehensive lists is valid and needs answering. Among the questions: Will the district compensate any expenses employees incur should they get infected? For districts offering online programs, who will run those if we are expected to be in our classrooms 100%? What kind of PPE will be provided, if any?
Most questions have not been answered and in fairness, these big decisions cannot be easy to make. It is the job of the people on top to run cost-benefit analyses and ultimately make many decisions based on quantitative data (usually related to the almighty dollar). So if we are effectively quantifying our lives, I must ask again how many teacher deaths are you OK with?
Because teachers are going to die. This is a fact that no one on top has been brave enough to say, but it is fact nonetheless. Teachers are going to die. And not just teachers; we’ve got a cadre of adults who work with kids: bus drivers, building engineers, administrators, paraprofessionals … The list is long.
So, how many deaths are you willing to reconcile? Are you OK with a few substitute teachers succumbing to COVID-19? Are you OK with one teacher and the fallout of grieving students and staff that will occur? Are you willing for a few more than that? Clearly at some point in your various analyses you came to the conclusion that opening up the schools is worth it even if some of your employees die.
I guess I really also just want to confirm how my life was decided to be worth less than political pressure. Particularly when this decision was made by a group of people who are still not willing to meet in person themselves. As for an answer to my question, there is really only one that is acceptable: zero. And if the answer is zero deaths, then why are we even entertaining going back in this manner?
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