Several Teachers' Unions Have Said They Do Not Want to Put Themselves At Risk By Opening Schools Too Soon

Teachers and staff are worried not enough safety measures have been put in place to protect them yet.
December 4, 2020Updated 2 months ago
Several Teachers' Unions Have Said They Do Not Want to Put Themselves At Risk By Opening Schools Too Soon
3 reasons
It puts them at risk. It's the adults in the schools that are likely at greater risk of getting COVID-19.
Three teachers have died since the beginning of the school year as a result of COVID-19. The teachers were in Missouri, Mississippi, and South Carolina and all relatively healthy before their schools reopened for the fall term. The total number of infected teachers across the country is still unclear, but Mississippi has reported more than 600 cases since school started back up. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said: “If community spread is too high as it is in Missouri and Mississippi, if you don’t have the infrastructure of testing, and if you don’t have the safeguards that prevent the spread of viruses in the school, we believe that you cannot reopen in person." While positive tests are at the same low levels as they were in Asia and Europe when schools reopened, American teachers have warned those countries had measures in place with regards to free personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, hygiene, and social distancing to minimize the risk to adults. In school districts with older buildings, the problem becomes one of inadequate ventilation, lack of windows in classrooms, and very low availability of certified school nurses. Some school districts have not even made masks mandatory, putting teachers and staff who have health issues like previous cancer diagnoses, lung problems, and autoimmune disorders at even greater risk. The early phase of the pandemic claimed the lives of dozens of teachers. The New York City Department of Education alone lost 31 teachers among 75 employees whose deaths were blamed on the coronavirus.
Teachers with their own kids are in a bad position. It becomes a bigger problem when neighboring school districts have different policies.
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Many teachers with their own children are concerned not just about childcare, but also logistics. For those whose kids attend school in a different district, the variations of which schools will reopen and those which will not, different days in school for those on blended schedules of in-person and virtual learning, and transportation have proven to be a nightmare. Across the U.S., the American Federation of Teachers lists 210 union members who have died. The list includes support staff and retirees as well as teachers. That means teachers with children in a different school district then theirs, some with different safety measures in place, are at even higher risk and stress levels trying to keep themselves, their students, and their own children safe. Some of the teachers who have been infected in this new school year caught the virus during their preparation days, when no children were in the building yet. That could mean some school districts are going to remain under virtual learning while others do not. For teachers with children on the opposite learning method of theirs, this is also an educational and developmental challenge. As Chalkbeat writes: "A sizable share of America’s teachers have young children. Most teachers are women, who often bear disproportionate caregiving responsibilities for children and other family members. And although many of the country’s large districts say they’re attempting to be flexible with teachers...few if any have policies that explicitly accommodate those juggling work and full-time caregiving."
Kids were just getting used to learning online. Adjusting to a new system now will just derail learning and cause chaos.
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Many school systems are opening on a blended system - with students coming into the classroom on different days of the week and remotely learning other days in order to have less crowded classrooms and buildings. Having a third to half of students out of the classroom at any given time, while they learn online at home does not make for a cohesive lesson plan or classroom experience. Teachers argue that integrating assignments and charting how well students are learning the material is especially difficult in this model on top of the stress of health concerns. There will also be students who will choose to learn remotely full-time, an option offered by most school districts for parents concerned about spread of the disease. However, because most remote learning the last semester of the last school year was done on the fly, it was asynchronous, or not 'live.' Students have adjusted to that, allowing parents to help them as work and life schedules dictated. With the blended system, some students will have to learn through synchronous instruction, meaning sitting on a laptop while some students are in the classroom. Parents and teachers say this will be incredibly difficult to navigate for younger kids who may require the physical setting of the classroom in order to remain engaged for that long. There is also the issue of those families without reliable, high-speed internet access at home. Those students may have fallen behind state-mandated learning benchmarks and forcing them into a blended system may push them further behind on their remote learning days.
Teachers often have multiple concerns when it comes to reopening: their own health, that of their students, and that of their own children.
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