Guest Post: How many teacher deaths are we OK with?

Empty classroom at Lakewood High School.
Empty classroom at Lakewood High School. (Photo Credit: Jonah Cooper)

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?

The Colorado Independent occasionally runs guest posts from government officials, local experts and concerned citizens on a variety of topics. These posts are meant to provide diverse perspectives and do not represent the views of The Independent. To pitch a guest post, please contact tips@coloradoindependent.com or visit our submission page.

Sara is a 5th grade teacher and actor in the metro area. In her profession she strives to promote equity for her students, create meaningful, relevant lessons, and find humor and fun in learning.

19 COMMENTS

  1. Many are just fine with you guys dying. Not me and your position on this is correct. They are fine with kids being taken out as well. This is not bs from some dumb libtard but way back many Republicans were and are just fine with the oldies giving up the ghost for Merca. They still say that and now include many more of the most vulnerable.
    This is sick and am so tired of it all.

  2. Many valid points to your article. I taught kids for 37 years.There is no way to be safe in the classroom. If you have 35 kids per class and teach five classes, the room is not large enough to distance 35 kids in one room. How do you clean between classes? Who does the cleaning? The list is endless why it is not safe. I wish your article could be shared. Thank you.

  3. By far the most undervalued members of our society, teachers are asked to provide our children with the skills and knowledge needed to continue and protect the future of our democracy. This is an excellent article from one who clearly understands her work but is also asking a relevant question: Are we willing to unnecessarily risk the lives of those essential for our kids’ well-being by forcing the opening of schools prematurely? The answers will involve everyone’s sacrifice and creativity. Well worth it!

  4. This is very articulate and to the point. If we are not able to be straight forward about what is on the line when making these decisions then we have no business calling ourselves a moral country. Public servants don’t owe us anything, we owe them.

  5. Let me change your question in your headline. “How many frontliner deaths are we ok with?”. That goes for all frontliners, the teachers, the health workers, security workers, service workers and peace & order workers. This is sick and very disappointing, just like what triggered the black community on what they did to George Floyd, racism at its worst form.

  6. Teachers have never been considered a valuable resource. As a group maybe in some cases or in a few districts they are valued because schools wouldn’t exist without teachers. But schools. in general, have always known that if one teacher quit or retired or dies, there’s someone new to step in and replace them. I’ve been retired for 5 years. The fact is, that my former district WANTED older, more experienced teachers to retire so they could hire new teachers for half the cost. You’d think they would value experience but they don’t. They actually don’t like to have teachers around who know how things were done in the past because when new administrators come in, they want things done their way. I have seen administrators move experienced teachers around or give them classes they hope will make the teacher miserable enough to retire. In my case, I was moved out of a great room for the subject I taught into a room detached from the rest of the school and deemed unsafe by standards set by the previous administration which stated that students should not go outside. I was put into a windowless concrete block room without air conditioning and told to keep the door closed because the access to the parking lot was deemed unsafe. I took a thermometer to school, which read 90+ degrees on many days in August and Sept of my last year. So their plan worked. They put me and my classes into an oven and since I didn’t want to repeat that again I retired at the end of the year. My district went through a lot of upheaval by combining 2 high schools, closing down a great vocational program and starting a charter school ten years ago. But the over-riding message I got was that teachers are not valued. They didn’t ask for teacher input. If any was given, the teacher could be subtly punished. I sat through many a staff meeting when the principal spoke about X and asked for input. No one dared say what they were thinking. No one dared ask a question. So, when you ask how many is the district prepared to sacrifice, I’d say any and all of them. The district I taught in was callous and cruel to teachers. We only stayed because we knew we could take a $10,000+ hit to our yearly salary if we changed districts. Add to this the fact that the number of administrators doubled during the 19 years I was there while the number of students decreased. The last 9 years I taught, 2005- 2014, there were no cost of living increases, and they froze the only way teachers could give themselves “raises”, by getting more education. I did that. I got a master’s degree in 2010 and was never even able to recoup the cost because of all the wage freezes. The administrators earning $100,000 or more per year gave themselves raises though by changing their job titles.

    • With less than 10 and more than 5 years until retirement, I’m in that lost $10k+ salary bind. I’d retire today if I could. My district is so similar to what you describe here, I thought it might be the same district. The only difference is the high schools combining – my district hasn’t done that – yet. Everything else could be cited from my district.

  7. Righteous. Colorado opened too fast and wide, without adequate testing and tracing capacity. You didn’t have to be a brain surgeon, er, ah, excuse me, epidemiologist to figure out back then that infections would go up. I hope teachers can organize around the stupidity of offering up (unnecessary) sacrifices to the voracious gods of capitalism.

  8. Sadly, frustratingly, horrifyingly, you are right! Teachers will die, not an if, a when. The governor of Florida, where I live, has closed bars- but not schools. It defies logic (Has he been in a high school lately?); worse, it defies humanity. He IS willing to accept dead teachers rather than upset Trump supporters.

  9. Follow the Science — Says minimal risk to opening schools in person
    Other countries never closed schools – and are currently open – with minimal risk
    Do what CDC says – they never recommended closing schools – more students die from regular flu that Covid – do we close for that ?

    With this stance teacher have said they are non-essential – they want to be treated as professionals – but wont work – what would we be like if Health care workers, first res-ponders, truckers, Costco workers Walmart workers, McDonald workers all took the same stance as teachers.
    Be careful what you wish for – one online teacher can teach hundreds of students- we wont need as many teachers, administrators or buildings –
    I would like a refund of my taxes since you refuse to work –

    Bet this wont get posted..
    Doesn’t fit the narritive.

    Put on the big boy pants and go to work

    • Science and medical professionals said 6′ apart is best. Now they say 3′ apart because of buses and classroom space issues. Now they say we have to let kids have mask-breaks and food breaks, 3′ apart, with no masks, in my classroom, with me supervising. How is that safe?

      As a teacher, in March I worked 10-12 hours a day to flip to remote learning and taught great classes, safely, without putting students, teachers, or their families at risk. I would do it again. My kids are worth it!

      My “big boy pants” have been on since March, Bill.

    • Looks like Bill gets his science from Breitbart.

      Bill – more people died from Covid in just 1 month of Covid in NY/NJ (April) than all people in the US who died from the Flu. Just one month, in only two states. Two states on lockdown w/ stay at home orders no less. Come on now… We’ve had 173,000+ deaths in 5 months with most of the country wearing masks, social distancing, and virtual learning. Project that out to 12 months and you’re looking at 400,000+ deaths. That’s like 8 years worth of flu deaths with us doing most everything we can to try and slow it down. If we went on with business as usual, you’d already see over a million deaths in the US.

      This virus isn’t the flu. It’s not only 10x+ more deadly even when accounting for asymptomatic cases, but it’s also much more communicable – being on par with polio and smallpox for R0 factor.

  10. This is so sad and tragic. I’m an ELAR teacher in Texas. I work in a school where only two rooms have windows and class size is about 33 students. So ventilation and fresh air is out. These kiddos don’t listen either and wouldn’t care if they have each other covid19 and especially a teacher. Even though we are teaching virtually for the 1st three weeks, I DO NOT feel safe!!! All the schools opening with Covid cases rising at its highest especially in Houston is absolutely insane. Teachers are dying and will continue to die with no covid19 vaccine and students just being kids. I wish someone, anyone could make a better decision here. Clearly the value of teachers and staff safety in not in high consideration or the kids. I don’t feel like being put in a Petri dish and let’s see what happens. What is this country coming too?

  11. Thank you for this article. I keep asking administrators this same question “how many teacher deaths are okay?”. And “how is it going to affect the students and teachers when the first person dies?” They still are avoiding my questions because they’re morbid and unsavory. But in this time, these questions are legitimate. I’m so frustrated because they say since we’re in a rural area that we’re somehow unable to get infected. Can’t wait for the thoughts and prayers they send out when the first person dies.

  12. Sara
    I would like to commend you on what is a truly well written and thoughtful article.
    Although I am completely disgusted with your position as an educator and victim of the fear mongering and twistictic outpouring of misinformation, I sincerely appreciate the obvious value you place on life in general and compassion you posses for children. When one allows the fear of something so inherently miniscule that quite literally, from a statistical standpoint, represents less risk than the act of simply commuting to the work place, I am left to wonder how they are possibly able to experience any joy or satisfaction in living at all.
    You cite a number of statistics in an attempt to reinforce your rational and yet fail to detail any factual information that might illustrate the distinction between the all important “with” and “from” differentiators. While I have no reason to question the numbers you cite, I have every reason to question not only the actual causation but also the comparative data associated other causes of death within the same proffession demographic.
    We all either have to accept some element of risk associated with our life and livelihood, or neither is worth pursuing.
    You exhibit tremendous potential as an educator. It would be a shame to see that potential driven away by such a shallow threat but a joy to see it realized by a little courage.

  13. All the naysayers on this thread can talk about how teachers should go back into the classroom are coming from arrogance and ignorance? Each and every one of them needs to go into the schools and work to help supervise all these children who we all know will not social distance. Put themselves in the unhealthy place they want others to be.
    Children already are all over each other, on top of each other, spreading germs, bacteria, colds, the flu, pink eye, lice, ringworm, and a plethora of other contagions in the best of times. I dare any one of these naysayers and teacher bashers to volunteer at their local school.
    Many of these people have absolutely no idea what goes on at a school everyday in the management of up to a thousand or more children. Their only experience is that from being a student. They have no clue of the other side. They have absolutely no idea of what this profession encompasses, especially the one who says teachers do not work or need to work, whatever ignorant statement he made. Also comparing teaching to front line workers is ridiculous. Those workers are in profession that save lives and provides services for basic survival. A few months out of school will not kill children or hurt their brains or their capacity to learn. I truly believe these non compassionate naysayers mainly are the ones who just want to get rid of their kids from home because schools have become a public daycare for them.
    Teaching is one of the few professions where your work day does not end when you leave the building. Teachers spend hours upon hours upon hours at home, nights & weekends planning, prepping, lesson planning, reading & grading. This is their own time, unpaid time. Many stay up until midnight to do so and then get up before dawn to go back into that for many overcrowded, poorly ventilated, germ infested building to try and teach some mandated curriculum they had no say in to students, some of which who do not want to be there and would prefer to be on their phones or anywhere else in the world.
    Teachers, also on their own time and many yet again without pay contact parents, correspond with caseworkers, and social workers etc. Teachers have to play mother, father, sister, brother, friend, nurse, psychologist, social worker, policeman many students and then on top of under all that teach. No pay for all of that.
    Many teachers run & sponsor clubs, coach and tutor after school, again unpaid time. Then teachers have required professional developments, seminars, workshops they have to attend on their own time and many with no pay.

    Ignore the ignorance of these people. It is people like these naysayers who are contributing to this dying profession. Enrollment at schools of education has dropped tremendously over the years. There is a tremendous shortage of teachers all over this country. New teachers are leaving the profession within 5 years. Many are quitting because they are exhausted, overwhelmed, stressed and just burned out to the point of affecting their overall mental, emotional and physical health. People go in to this profession healthy and many leave with high blood pressure and other stress related conditions. The ones who manage to last over that 5 year mark and into retirement age, God bless you. You made it. You are a survivor. And no one else said it, so I will, to all the naysayers on this thread and throughout America, you can all go to hell as far as I am concerned.

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