By: Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT – We are about five weeks from opening school in Louisiana, and teachers are beginning to get anxious. Certainly parents and students are as well, but teachers are natural planners and we like to know the lay of the land with as much advance notice as possible.
Districts across the nation have started releasing tentative plans, but we all know that could change on a dime. Most look like hybrid plans – part virtual school, part in-person. There are also all-virtual options for parents who don’t feel comfortable sending their kids back to school just yet.
I see a lot of concern about masks; both teachers and students are generally going to be expected to wear masks to school. I see lots of concern about social distancing, about number of students in a classroom, and about spacing kids out on the bus.
What I don’t see a lot of is concern for the teacher. In discussion threads I’ve been reading, many parents can’t wait to get their kids back to school, for a variety of reasons, and many seem comfortable that their kids will be safe. After all, it’s older folks who are mostly catching COVID-19, not young kids. We haven’t seen a lot of outbreaks in day care centers, I’m told.
Teachers across the country have a great deal of anxiety about returning to the classroom. There are a great many teachers near retirement age, or that are currently eligible to retire but just haven’t wanted to. These are the teachers expressing the most concern right now; many of us are caring for elderly family members or are in an at-risk group ourselves. Some of us live with immunocompromised people. So yes, we are invested in being certain that school opens safely.
Some teachers around the country say they are nervous about returning because of underlying health conditions or concerns about infecting family members. Others say they are frustrated by the lack of clear guidance from officials about what’s safe. And for some, it’s about child care if their own kids are only back at school for a handful of days during the week.
The result is an inevitable clash between leaders pushing aggressive reopening policies in states like Texas and Florida and teachers, some of whom say local officials need to think more about what they are asking teachers to do.
There is so much conflicting information, it is difficult to believe anything or to truly know what is safe and what isn’t. After months of social distancing and stay at home orders, how can we just return to school with any degree of certainty that things will be safe?
Overall, a combined 54 percent of American voters said they are somewhat uncomfortable or very uncomfortable with reopening K-12 schools for the beginning of the coming school year, according to the latest POLITICO/Morning Consult poll that assessed the nation’s mood about students returning to day cares and schools shut down by the pandemic.
Some districts are offering either virtual learning or in-person learning that “almost totally” disregards CDC guidelines because social distancing won’t be possible and students might not be wearing masks, said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of a school superintendents association.
“A lot of states along the Southern belt are just planning to move ahead with, all students, all come, and to me, that is going to be a horror,” he said.
And on the issue of masks, many school districts are recommending them but can’t mandate them unless they supply them. Or can they? How is it different than a mandated dress code? And what if a student refuses? What about students with asthma or other concerns?
So many unknowns.
And yes, we still have a few weeks. Things can change very quickly as we all know.
But I worry.
I worry about bring this virus into my home. I worry about getting sick, myself. I worry about exposing so many more people to the virus by opening schools and all that brings. So many surfaces to clean! Where will all those Lysol wipes come from!? This is certainly a logistical nightmare for district decision-makers on so many levels.
What are your thoughts on the new school year? Would you be comfortable sending your kids into a public school in five weeks?
Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.