Are Educators Truly Disposable?

Jeffco will be making its plans public tomorrow: Middle and high schools will be open for business–full classrooms, full time.

For my colleagues at Columbine, pretty typical in the district, this means spending 8 hours a day in a windowless or at least sealed-window room with poor air-ventilation. It will be full of 25-32 students seated perhaps three feet apart in 90-minutes cycles. With no air flow, even plexiglass partitions can only do so much, and there’s no word on whether or not they’ll have those. Classes will meet every other day, so these kids will cycle in and out, exposing educators to whatever 75 kids a day bring with them, from the common cold to the possibility of Covid-19. Masks will be required unless a medical reason prevents wearing one. We’ve seen how well this works getting parents to immunize their kids. Colorado is last in the nation for standard Kindergarten immunizations.

It’s ok, though. Children, we are told, have resistance to the virus and weather it much better if they get it.

No one talks about the educators. Some will be pregnant, now a group considered high risk. Some are immunocompromised. Some have battled long illnesses, and their bodies can’t really take another. Some are in high-risk age groups. And then, some are young and healthy, and they may still die of Covid anyway. It happens. Kids die of it, too. Substitutes have largely been retired teachers, a very high-risk group.

But the economy needs kids back at school. Parents need to return to work. Online school doesn’t net good results for most kids, and they’re falling behind. It’s hard for families to manage more than one kid at a time learning online, even if they can afford to have a parent stay home to supervise, and few families have that resource.

So we tell educators they must risk their lives, the lives of their unborn children, the lives of their own elderly parents for whom they care. After all, as educators get sick or even die, surely new ones will pop from a box like Kleenex. Isn’t that how it works? You use them up, throw them away, and grab fresh ones?

To be fair, this issue isn’t of Jeffco Schools’ making. We decided when the stay-at-home order was lifted that everyone should choose for themselves whether or not to adhere to social distancing and whether or not to mask. We opened bars and restaurants–again, for the economy, and also because we were bored.

After all, didn’t a few of our leaders suggest that we throw away our parents and grandparents, sacrificing them to Covid for the economy?

Have we really come to this?

If we had been more strict about masks and social distancing, we could have a different conversation about opening schools, but we didn’t. We want the freedom to choose, and now we are asking teachers to literally risk their lives for our poor choices. One parent compared teachers to health care workers. We need them, and they must take the risk. Show me the healthcare worker we expect to stay in an enclosed room with who knows how many potential carriers in a group of 25-32 patients with nothing more than a cloth mask and possibly a face shield for protection?

I have news. Educators are not disposable. Sooner or later, you’ll run out. First you’ll run out of licensed individuals with the skills and experience kids need. Then you’ll run out of people stupid enough to walk into this situation, qualified to teach or not. Of course, by then, we’ll be deep in the throws of another wave, partly set off by schools, in which thousands will die.

“But other countries have gone back full time without all of this!” I hear you cry. Countries that had greatly reduced and stabilized their infection rates. We are not one of those countries. In fact, the U.S. and Brazil are competing neck and neck for the honor of having the highest Covid rates in the world.

I have a pretty diverse Facebook feed, so I’ve seen more than my share of “I have the right to decide whether or not to wear a mask or socially distance. I must be allowed to choose what is best for me and my family.” Of course, other people comment that this has serious consequences for others, that non-maskers and bar drinkers are endangering everyone around them, and the reply is always some gently worded version of “tough shit.”

Educators MUST be allowed to decide what is best for them and their families, including whether they will teach in person or online. If not enough choose in person, and that leaves families without childcare and employers without workers, well, I guess the reply is pretty much the same. If opening schools was that important, the rest of us should have thought about that weeks ago.

If Jefferson County Public Schools, and every other district in the country, sees educators as something other than disposable; if my former colleagues are more to them than Kleenex to be used up and tossed away, they must allow teachers to decide whether to return in person or teach online until the Covid rate is on a steady and sustained decline.

About admin

Paula is an author of historical fiction as well as a wife, mom, and teacher.
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13 Responses to Are Educators Truly Disposable?

  1. Ann-Marie says:

    I so agree with all of these sad truths.

  2. Sandra Mikesell says:

    Thank you for putting into words all of my feelings around this. I am terrified about the fall. I would be less terrified if masks were mandated, but they are not. CCSD is hoping for 80% compliance, which is very scary to me. I know, through painful personal experience, a long illness with worker’s compensation, how sub par our HVAC ventilation is in our school buildings. I fear we will have a major outbreak within a few weeks of school starting.

  3. John Williams, Ed. D. says:

    Paula:

    As always, an insightful, thoughtful analysis of what we are facing in Jefferson County and across the country. As a retired teacher librarian from Jefferson County, I am very concerned for all students, staff, faculty and administrators. I hope and pray we can find a solution that protects all of us.

  4. Tanya Friesen says:

    This is very well said. I’m scared that our country and districts won’t do enough and we’ll be in big trouble. I’m also scared because all four members of my family will be in schools and our daughter is very immunocompromised.

  5. Jack Smith says:

    100%. We blew it, America. We had our chance to get schools safely reopened in August, but we blew it. Had to go to the bars, gatherings, and parties. Didn’t listen to the experts and instead listened to those that said it was over or no big deal. Don’t be mad at teachers when a week into school, schools have to shut down and you are homeschooling again. Just remember how much fun you had this summer hanging at the beaches and bars. That’ll get you through until 2021.

  6. Sheryl says:

    Well said Paula. In addition Colorado is one of the worst states for funding education. Ultimately that impacts teacher pay and recruitment. It also impacts the district’s ability to open school with the safety precautions needed. It seems people in public service professions are thought of as disposable as you stated -even the educated, licensed professionals. My heart goes out to all the teachers this fall.

  7. Maria says:

    Wow – is this really the plan? I’m a parent worried for my high school student and my own family, but also very concerned for teachers. Our family doesn’t support this. And the original draft plan’s survey that was sent to families was flawed because it was talking about a hybrid model, so many of us expressed some willingness to send kids back to school but only given that 10-students-in-a-classroom notion. This is crap for everyone involved. Teachers should not be sacrificed.

  8. Emily says:

    This is part of what I don’t understand…I had the freedom to choose to stay home and wear a mask and protect myself, but suddenly I will have to go in to work with colleagues and students who may have exercised their freedom to travel, play sports, congregate in large groups, etc.

    This doesn’t seem fair.

  9. Malinda says:

    I’m not in Colorado but am a teacher. Excellent post!

  10. Melissa says:

    Not only are teachers required to return to school with unclear safety precautions but because we have to work, our children have to return to school too. *Right I know i could opt out and stay home and be one of the ones doing remote teaching, but I would lose my job at my school without a guarantee of a new school when it’s safe again. In the end I would feel better about all of this if the districts were being transparent about the risk and safety plans, and teaching/sick expectations.

  11. Karen says:

    As a parent I totally agree with all of this. I am so concerned for teachers and school staff. Not to mention the kids and their families. It’s like rolling an evil set of dice for everyone.

  12. Kiira says:

    As educators, we all cannot, unfortunately, “choose” in person or remote. In order to even qualify for remote teaching, a loved one or I MUST have an underlying condition. For those without an underlying condition, there is no remote option: they must return to the classroom, take a leave of absence, or quit.

  13. Jean says:

    Well said, everybody! The Education industry was getting out of hand BEFORE with tests, teacher harassment (reviews), lack of discipline, and so on…they took my health, my love for my job, and (if I weren’t retired) they would now want my very LIFE! My dear husband said that if I weren’t retired, I would be NOW. I know the financial hardships are real, but I wish our country’s educators would have a mass walk-out, unless they are able to teach on-line, or with very limited numbers at a time — five? eight? anything above 8 is suicidal/homicidal. I wish our parents would boycott in-person education until the epidemic is past.

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