Let's face the reality. We cannot go back into the classroom in the fall. The new school year is just around the corner and the number of COVID cases hasn't even dropped. In fact, it's been spiking with record numbers on the daily. Trump and DeVos want schools to fully reopen, but they have no plans beside "schools have to reopen." There is no way to guarantee student and staff safety. My state of California is rolling back reopening plans and yet we're still pushing for schools to reopen? It makes no sense. It's unrealistic for so many reasons. We have no plans to reopen schools SAFELY! So many unanswered questions.
Unrealistic Expectations. It's a Mess!
Honestly, I believe most, if not all, states have absolutely no plans. It makes zero sense to go back. We closed schools in the country when we had about 1000 cases back around March 17th. As of July 14th, we are at 3.35 million confirmed cases and over 135,000 deaths. That is more than a 3000% increase in 4 months! It makes absolutely ZERO sense that Trump and DeVos want us to go back. Trump threatened to pull funding unless we reopen schools. What funding? How much more funding does the government plan or threaten to cut? This country has stripped so much away from public education already. How many educators have spent their own money for work? I spend on average at least $500 to $1000 every year to supplement my nearly non-existent supply budget.
My county came out with school reopening guidelines. It created so much confusion. Instead of the districts and schools within the county to work on a uniformed plan, districts interpreted the guidelines on their own, leading to a wide range of different plans. This created much frustration and uproar, especially teachers who felt their concerns were ignored.
Personally, I laughed when I skimmed through the guidelines. They all sound great on paper...but whoever wrote them must be out of touch with reality. Let me share a few of these expectations that made me laugh.
They all sound great on paper, but logistically it's near impossible to ensure these are all properly followed. Also, another important question is WHO IS FUNDING ALL THIS??? My county is only providing cleaning supplies for the first 60 days. What happens on Day 61? If my district can't afford it, do we just close schools again? There goes Trump threatening to cut funding to education when we already have problems getting funds in the first place.
Educators in the classroom have known for years that we're underfunded. It's a broken system. We have to ask for donations. In fact, I get in trouble when I ask for donations. All this talk of going back and no one is focusing on safety. Yes, on paper there's all these safety guidelines, but WHERE'S THE MONEY? I buy whiteboard markers out of my own pocket! Will I have to ask parents to donate PPE?
Educators DO Want to Go Back, But We Want to Do It SAFELY!!!
Every single educator I know wants to go back, but we want to go back SAFELY and right now there's nothing on that. There's just an expectation to send students and staff back with no plans, sending us to our possible deaths.
People are confusing "we want to make sure it's safe so your child, their classmates, or their teachers don't die" with "educators being lazy and wanting to keep schools closed." What happened to all that teacher appreciation we saw on the news when schools first closed? Now people in government are trying to make martyrs out of us.
Also, I saw some social media thread with people saying that teachers just don't want to go back so they can collect their unemployment. Umm...Schools PHYSICALLY closed, but teachers kept working the entire time. There was no way I could've qualified for unemployment. In fact, I've been working almost every day this summer without a break. My calendar since summer started has been booked with endless school meetings. I've been trying to write this for the past week, but I keep pushing it off because I had meetings.
People are confusing "we want to make sure it's safe so your child, their classmates, or their teachers don't die" with "educators being lazy and wanting to keep schools closed."
Look. I'm not trying to shirk away from my duties as an educator. I miss my students, but honestly I am not comfortable going back into the classroom without at least the following:
We have 10 pots & only 6 lids to cover. Opening schools without careful planning and guaranteed funding streams for all those things asked is absolutely premature. Don't rush it just because you can drop your kids off so you can go back to work. Hybrid models will have to be carefully planned. Schools are not daycare centers. We're not babysitters (or we should just charge the babysitter hourly rate PER child). Yes, the economy will take a hit, but the economy's going to be fine and work itself out in the end.
We will see educators walk away from their positions because we're being sent back into the trenches without even proper equipment. That was already a teacher shortage, except now there's a pandemic to top it all off. Some educators are choosing early retirement than going back. And overall, we feel ignored in all these reopening decisions.
Again, we want to go back SAFELY! But you know what. We can't go back. It's just not safe. We closed schools at 1000 cases. We've topped 3.35 million this week. 3000%+ increase in 4 months and we think it's safe? School reopening meetings are taking place on Zoom? Think about it. The planners are meeting VIRTUALLY for their safety to talk about reopening schools IN-PERSON!
The risks have been calculated and all factors included, right? Makes no sense to me. Reopening schools now is pretty much for economic reasons or people have politicized the pandemic and think it'll disappear after the November elections. Trump thinks Democrats hate education. Strange because I thought schools are liberal socialist indoctrination machines, so shouldn't you want to keep kids out? It's absolutely 100% for health reasons!
Every single educator I know want to go back as much as anyone. We all know that students learn better with in-person interaction and instruction. They thrive on those relationships. Distance learning sucks. I hate it. It's not equitable.
Inequities of Reopening Schools
I've been personally and professionally conflicted over this. I have my fair share of students from low-income families. I've been reaching out and directing them to community resources. Distance learning is not equitable to our vulnerable and struggling communities that lack access, such as technology. Food security is an issue. Some students are in toxic households. If a student lives in a 2BR apartment with 10 other people, where can they find a quiet and safe place to learn?
On the other hand, if we open schools and offer a choice, who will be the ones most likely to go back? Most likely students from vulnerable communities while the privileged can keep their kids at home and safe. Now those students are being put at risk of exposure and possibly bringing it back home. There are educational equities to distance learning, but also opening schools will further expose our vulnerable populations to potential death. Honestly, I have no answer to this, which is another reason why we can't go back without proper planning. We need funding! What's the point of getting an education if the ones you're teaching and the ones who are receiving it are incapacitated, or worse, dead? It's extremely frustrating.
I can't help but refer to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs here. We need to secure students and the communities' physiological and safety needs before we can even move up the pyramid.
We have to stop comparing our country to other countries when it comes to reopening. Most of those countries have national plans. Trump left it to the states. California closed up. Texas and Florida did their own thing and now they're seeing spikes daily. Wearing a mask and the very existence and severity of COVID-19 are political issues. This country is so hyped up on the notion of "freedom" as if we're the only country that has freedom.
DeVos said that children have a lower contraction rate than any other part of the population. Children have been out of schools since March and stuck at home. How many of them got tested? There's no real data. The only way we can get real data is by sending children back. NY Governor Andrew Cuomo said it right, "We're not going to use our children as guinea pigs."
I have no answers to all this. Instead I have so many questions. I feel helpless. I've just been expounding my thoughts here. I want to end on the note by providing a list of "Reopening School" questions in the next section.
Questions That Should Be Considered & Answered Before We Return to the Classroom
On a concluding note, below is a LONG list of questions I found on social media. I've added a few of my own. If someone can let me know who the original author is, that would be great so I can give credit to that person for coming up with this amazing list. These questions should be addressed and answered if any schools plan to reopen.
The fact that there are so many questions demonstrate that we are completely unprepared to go back to school. Until we figure them out, we must do distance learning. We have to protect our children and educators' lives.
Please stand with us and support us just as we support your children.
I'm Jayson, a high school social science teacher with a strong passion for social justice and public education issues.