I usually wait for a back to school themed post until September, but I thought in light of this current school reopening controversy now is the best time. This COVID-19 nuttiness has led to many unprecedented things from closing businesses, cancelling events, even forbidding freedom of movement and association and now, excuses not to return to school! I’ve covered before the utter hypocrisy of those who claim it’s all for public health, yet banish a multitude of non threatening and easily socially distanced activities while sanctioning events like thousands close together rioting in the streets. Businesses, schools, churches can’t open but protests can. Abortion clinics and liquor stores are open yet the mom and pop shop has to file for bankruptcy. The most vulnerable such as the immunocompromised and elderly are wielded as a catch all excuse for these draconian measures yet COVID-19 positive patients were mandated to be given spots in nursing homes where the vast majority of deaths from covid occur. Hospitals were said to be flooded and overwhelmed, yet cases dwindled lower and lower in ICU’s day by day and places like New York sent back aid such as the USS Comfort. We are told to wait for a vaccine but ignore other treatments that have been shown to work. We can wait in socially distanced lines in stores now, but not to vote? See what I’m getting at here?
Now as to these teachers who are protesting going back to school, I’d argue it resembles the whining of petulant children than educated professionals! You argue that you can’t go back to teach as it’s too risky for you, but unless you are medically fragile and immunocompromised, or you’re about old enough to retire already then most likely you won’t get covid or just have mild symptoms. Young healthy adults are not the target group for the deadly effects. These young kids out of college going to their first teaching jobs are not at the most risk, nor are older teachers who are under 60. If you’re a healthy adult this is not as big an issue anymore than your risk of getting every nasty bug that goes around. You didn’t stop showing up to work every year there was a bad flu season. You didn’t stop showing up to work when that nasty norovirus made its ways through the halls. So why now? We’re not talking about the Spanish Flu, or Ebola here!
As for those who are older and/or medically fragile, you are at risk for any disease to be more severe for you than others. The elderly can die of the common cold or a mild flu whereas a younger person may not be affected much at all. But guess what? Those bugs were circulating around school all the decades you taught. Any illness spreads rapidly in a school environment, not just covid, so overall, you are equally put at risk by any number of germs. So why panic over covid when you could be sent to the hospital for the flu just as much? And yet they don’t close school each fall and winter despite many teachers with subpar health. Immuno-compromised teachers and medically fragile teachers are also more at risk, but they are more at risk for every other disease out there as well. Not to mention, you chose to teach in an environment were there would be illnesses spreading around yet you took that risk by taking the position in a school. If you are genuinely more at risk, then why did you decide to take the risk of working in a school with many pathogens lurking around daily when you know you have a condition that puts you more at risk for dangerous effects? If you knew getting the flu or a stomach virus could land you in the hospital for weeks, and that schools often circulate these quite frequently and they are easily transmissible, then why go into teaching unless you accepted that risk to your health? Those who work with young children know all too well how “sanitary” they are, yet you chose to teach those age groups. Why is this new disease so special when you were just as at risk from plenty of others more than the average person?
Also, if you do need accommodations such as a leave of absence or some type of remote teaching, then why not pursue those avenues for yourself rather than demand every other healthy student and teacher leave with you? I’m not opposed to some compromises, such as what many colleges are doing like hybrid models or some remote classes and others in person for instance. It would be easy to have students have a remote class while in class on chrome books with you teaching from your house then simply go to their in person classes next door afterwards. Why not simply make everyone at school take a covid test and exclude anyone who tested positive until they are cleared so no known positives will be allowed on school grounds? Many colleges are doing such. There are many ways to accommodate the most vulnerable teachers if only we thought outside the box and bureaucratic tape. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing situation.
Maybe if none are possible, you need to make a hard decision and consider leaving for the year. Many will argue they don’t have the savings to do such a thing, but what would you have done if you were out under normal circumstances due to an illness or medical condition that you are more at risk of having due to your condition or diagnosis? Those with special health concerns need to plan for these events. If you’re prone to getting various cancers and need chemo for months, if you’re diabetic and injure yourself with a chronic injury that won’t heal, if you have osteoporosis and fall and need months of physical therapy, if you have a heart condition and need major open heart surgery in the middle of the school year, if every time you get sick it lands you in the hospital etc… you need a financial plan to get you through a possible health crisis. Of course everyone should have savings for a long term health issue, but especially those more at risk for them than the average person! Why is covid special when you already needed to prepare for a myriad of other health threatening scenarios like other common illnesses or injuries just in case they should happen? This isn’t victim-blaming or “speaking from privilege”, but thinking like a responsible adult.
Speaking of thinking like an adult, much of the whining to cancel in person school sounds like whiny children and teenagers saying “But I don’t want to get up!” I mean really? Do you have to act like martyrs and drama queens, people? For every healthy teacher out there, what’s your excuse to not go back when we know covid doesn’t target healthy adults with the most deadly effects? Honestly, much of it could be construed as somewhat offensive to other people in various other jobs. How? Well think about your store clerk, the supermarket cashier and baggers, those who stock the shelves, those in processing plants, those in every essential business who remained open during the lock downs. One could argue first responders and medical professionals “signed up” for any risk including life threatening ones, but did your grocers? Your cashier? Restaurant workers? The humble janitors who clean all the allegedly infected surfaces? Your mail carriers? The garbage men and women? Did any of these people sign up for catching covid any more than you? And yet we never heard them complaining or mass strikes despite having to work so we could stay home. How are you as teachers any more special than millions of others who didn’t sign up for a global pandemic yet went to their jobs anyways without complaint or even recognition? They had just as much right to say it’s not worth our lives yet bravely did their jobs and supported themselves and their families. What’s so scary about teaching in a socially distanced classroom, or even hybrid courses? Is it any more scary really, than being a store clerk or a janitor? You’re in a building with other people for 6-8 hours? So are they. You’re breathing in potentially contaminated air? So are they. Did they think that would be part of their job any more than you did? Nope. So really, what is your excuse to say you’re more deserving than they are of taking less risk?
And what about your students? What about what you owe to them when you become an educator of young minds? Many argue that this push to get teachers back to their full capacities is rooted in sexism because teaching as associated with women and thus demand they risk their lives for “the sake of the children” whereas other careers aren’t seen as free childcare. Oh, come on!!!! Really? The gender card? What about all the male teachers? Before you cry sexism think of all your male colleagues too, ladies. I fully agree teachers should not be taken for granted, and that they deserve to feel safe at work as much as anyone else. However how safe does “everyone else” really feel in this climate of hysteria? Yet they report for their shifts as argued in the previous paragraph. Not all work can be done remotely and be efficient, and school’s one of them.
I’d strongly argue school IS an “essential” business! A proper education opens doors and breaks cycles of poverty and crime for many communities. School is a safe haven for those who are abused and neglected. Not all families have the option to home school or stay home from work all year either to watch young children at home, nor the same resources a school can give an underprivileged child. What about disparities in learning materials, internet connection etc…? Yes, teaching is a job and teachers deserve fair working conditions. But it also goes beyond just collecting a pay check, if you’re a decent teacher and person at least. It’s about inspiring your students, and going above and beyond for them, even in small ways. And doing the kind of mentorship that makes a great teacher can’t just happen behind a screen. As for fair working conditions, that apparently included being exposed to every other nasty germ out there before this. Ever caught something nasty that made you feel terrible from your students or coworkers that was going around? Probably everyone at some point, yet that wasn’t grounds for resignation or teaching remotely until that nasty stomach flu made its rounds…. If you’re a normal healthy adult, then that’s probably all it will be. What about the school shootings? That is FAR from a safe workplace and no one EVER signs up for being murdered in cold blood. Yet no cries for remote learning happened then… 😦
As for medically fragile students, another argument against reopening schools, similar arguments apply as with medically vulnerable teachers. Their vulnerability is to everything, covid is not special. An immunocompromised student undergoing chemo for one example, is just as in danger with the flu going around, that nasty norovirus, pneumonia, the common cold etc… Which are of an equal risk if not more of contracting in school as COVID-19. A student who can’t get vaccinated is in danger if unvaccinated students go to school too. A student with respiratory issues is at risk by any respiratory ailment. These issues were present before this pandemic. Covid is just one more risk in a sea of hundreds for vulnerable students. If a student is so medically vulnerable that covid is life threatening, then so is catching the flu, the common cold, a fever, a stomach virus, pneumonia, and every other pathogen that circulates in school. In that case, it’s not safe for them to attend in person school around others, which was true before this pandemic hit and will be after it’s passed. So why then, does the vast majority, like almost 99% of students not at risk of death or serious harm from covid have to miss in person school too?
Overall, there’s really no excuses not to reopen school this fall. With some reasonable precautions, like every other business that reopened has done there’s little reason why some compromise can’t be made.
Colleges and universities are reopening under modified circumstances so why can’t schools?
Thousands of protesters were allowed to be in the streets packed tightly by our leaders so why can’t schools hold classrooms of 20-30 kids?
Millions of essential employees worked in person under risks they never “signed up for” either without complaint so why can’t teachers?
Most states are allowing reopening and have been through several phases of their plans to reopen even more so why can’t schools?
If you can keep in person schools open despite numerous tragedies of cold blooded murder by gunmen that NO ONE EVER signed up to have as a risk then why not now?
Last but not least, what example does it send to our kids when teachers try every excuse in the book to get out of returning to school? What does it teach every teen who whines to sleep in and skip class that day? How can we tell our youth school is a priority when the very people who will educate them don’t want to come in themselves? Leaders lead from the front, and never ask those below them to do what they will not. So maybe the real question is, do we have any right to ask kids to prioritize attending school when the adults around them make excuse after excuse not to? What happens when the kids come up with an excuse of their own not to go back after the dust settles again now they’ve witnessed such behavior?