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.