Report from Louisiana: Phase 3

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Governor John Bel Edwards moved Louisiana into Phase 3 last week, but not everyone is happy about that, and with good reason.

In some ways, Phase 3 is stricter than Phase 2. For example, in Phase 2, bars are closed to on-site consumption, unless they are also serving food.  Restaurants were able to open and serve alcohol at 50% capacity.

Under Phase 3, the capacity for restaurants moves up to 75%, however now all alcohol must be served only at tables; so, if you’re a restaurant with a bar area where people eat at the bar, nope. You have to sit at a table.

And under Phase 3, bars can now open to 25% capacity or 50 people, whichever is smaller, but no alcohol can be sold in either bars or restaurants after 10 p.m., and all establishments must be clear of patrons by 11 p.m.

Live music and dancing are forbidden.

Now, local mayors can go back to a previous phase if it is stricter than the one currently in place, so perhaps local mayors should consider going back to Phase 2 where bars and restaurants could serve alcohol after ten.

High Schools are going ahead with football games beginning in a couple of weeks with “social distancing encouraged” in the stands. In New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell is keeping her city in Phase 2, and has disallowed all alcohol consumption in bars. There will also be no prep football in New Orleans in Phase 2.

New Orleans is keeping the status quo of Phase 2 which means “bars will continue to be shuttered throughout the city and that restaurants, stores, gyms and other businesses are limited to 50% of their pre-coronavirus capacity.”

The rules in NOLA have been tougher than the rest of the state because their numbers were so high compared to other places.

At any rate, here in Shreveport anyway, bar owners are frustrated by the continued restraints on their business, and now those seem even tougher.

In Bossier Parish, where I teach, we are going back to 100% face to face instruction next week. No more A/B hybrid days. This has me concerned because this means my small classroom will again be filled to capacity with students. There are pros and cons to this: from an educational standpoint, of course it’s better because face it, the virtual model is not working well for many kids. But from a health standpoint, I’m nervous again.

There will be literally nothing I can do in my classroom as far as social distancing goes. We won’t be able to spread even three feet apart.

I don’t have the answers, but I don’t think anyone does. It’s like at this point, with restrictions easing on one end and tightening up on another, we are nowhere close to being on the same page with this virus. All I can do will be the best I can, and try to protect myself.

Life has never felt more dystopian.

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.

Report from Louisiana: a Book Review

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — I’ve just finished reading a beautiful novel that I want to share with you. As like probably many of you, I’m an avid reader with a pretty diverse interest range. I read a lot of nonfiction, literary fiction, women’s fiction, historical fiction…pretty much anything. Not a big fan of romance, but I do like a good mystery.

The End of the Day by Bill Clegg is a stunning new novel coming out September 29 and is available for pre-order on Amazon. The story takes a while to unfold — don’t get impatient. It’s worth the journey. Told from the POV of various characters, we are slowly pulled in, woven in, to this complex plot line of intersecting lives. Just how they intersect is not immediately clear.

The main characters are Jackie, Dana, and Lupita. Three women of different social class: Dana is wealthy and privileged, Jackie is middle-class, and Lupita working class. Lupita’s family works for Dana’s family who is sponsoring them for a green card; Jackie and Dana are childhood friends. The story is set in the framework of a single day yet covers sixty years and Clegg weaves this intricate plot one thread at a time.

The prose is lyrical and more than once I found myself reaching for a notebook to write down a line simply because it was so evocative and beautiful. Symbolic elements abound without being overpowering. This is the kind of novel you read slowly in order to absorb every detail and I was sorry when it ended.

This is the first Bill Blegg novel for me but now I’m going to go back and read his other work, both fiction and nonfiction: Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, and Did you Ever Have a Family, among others.

Add this book to your reading list; if you like solid, beautiful literary fiction, this is a good one.

Report from Louisiana: Checking in after Laura

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — Hurricane Laura came and went this past Thursday, leaving behind a wake of destruction throughout Louisiana.

The death count so far is fourteen, at least five of those from carbon monoxide poisoning from generator use. A fourteen year old girl in Leesville, Louisiana was killed when a tree fell on to her family’s home.

Lake Charles looks like a war zone; the pictures coming out of there are devastating. News reports indicate that it will be weeks before power is restored and in some parishes the entire power grid has to be rebuilt from the ground up.

Shreveport is in the far northwest corner of the state and Laura was still a Cat 1 hurricane when she reached us, which is very rare. The last major tropical storm we had through here was Rita in 2005, but it was not still a hurricane when it came through here.

We were without power in my neighborhood four days; in Shreveport we still have 18,000 without power as I write this just in Shreveport. Throughout the state is much more.

One thing I’ve realized is how spoiled and soft I am; my little tiny stint without power in the Louisiana heat and humidity is nothing compared to what other people are going through. If you want to destroy civilization, take away our air conditioning.

Donald Trump visited south Louisiana this weekend to survey damage; FEMA is on the ground and the Cajun Navy has been deployed to help. The resources to help are in place but it doesn’t make the current suffering much better when your home is destroyed and your possessions scattered across four parishes. A blue tarp doesn’t help you much.

That being said, Louisiana is strong and we have done this before. We will work together and rebuild, even stronger, and we will lift each other up and help each other get there.

I’m keeping this short today: I have some little minor problems to attend to today, like reinstalling a network driver on my laptop which has somehow disappeared, and cleaning out my refrigerator and the spoiled food that didn’t make it.

I’m counting my blessings, big time.

Report from Louisiana: Week One – Done

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Schools across the country are opening up, some all virtual, some all in-person, and some a hybrid mix A/B schedule. School districts are making decisions about transparency and how much information to share with the public with regard to Covid exposures and outbreaks. These policies differ from district to district.

When making decisions about exposure transparency several factors seem to be at play. First to consider is patient privacy, of course. Some districts are interested in image and in containing community panic. Others are wide open and are making weekly disclosure announcements.

In exploring this same topic last week, The New York Times spoke with Dr. Ashish Jha, of the Harvard Global Health Institute, who said “If schools don’t notify, it actually can make disease control more difficult. And it’s not like no one will know. Word will get out through a rumor mill. You don’t scare people by telling them what’s going on. You scare them by hiding information.”

Personally, I think communities should be informed, but I do see the problem if it is a very small community where patient identity would be obvious.

Most districts are choosing to notify only close contacts who might need to quarantine, and the rumor mill is taking care of the rest. This is a poor system.

I teach high school, and we had four days of inservice and training of the new programs that will support virtual learning, and then we had students for two days so far on an A/B hybrid schedule. We get half of our students on an A day and the other half on the B day, then they alternate Fridays.  This is my twenty-fifth year to teach high school, and it was the first year that I felt sad at the end of the day. There were no hugs, no high-fives, and no smiles that I could see because everyone was wearing a mask.

Many people were so anxious for schools to open so we could “get back to normal,” but let me tell you, this is in no way normal. When the bus drops kids off they go straight to a homeroom, or to the cafeteria to pick up a grab and go breakfast in a big Ziploc bag, then they go to homeroom. Everyone sits in homeroom until the first bell at 7:25. We are six feet apart, and there are no more than ten kids in any classroom at one time.

Same procedure for lunch.  The kids never go outside, and can’t let loose and relax much at lunch, because they are sitting six feet apart in a desk.

This is not normal.

Classes aren’t even normal. There are no group projects – we have to sit in straight rows all facing the front. Some elementary teachers have spent their own money to build plexiglass partitions and cubicles for students to avoid the rows.

The halls are quiet because you can’t stop and socialize – six feet apart.

It’s just very surreal and dystopian and it made me sad.

My colleagues and I are trying as hard as we can to find solutions, to break the monotony, to be engaging. To make them laugh, to feel safe, to feel welcome.

But this is not normal school. It still is better than 100% virtual for some students, that is certain. There is still bound to be a little bit of social stimulation here.

But outbreaks and exposures are already happening. I personally know of several in quarantine after only two days. I take precautions – I’ve bought a HEPA air purifier for my classroom (out of my own pocket.) We wipe down Chromebooks between each student, and desks, all day long. At the end of the day the custodians come in with foggers to kill any lingering virus. We have to exit our classrooms right after the students leave, so no more long afternoons at my desk catching up on grading. When I come home, I leave my shoes outside, change and shower immediately. The clothes go straight into the washer.

Meanwhile, a large part of the general public tells us teachers to quit whining, that grocery clerks, medical personnel, and other frontline workers have been working since March. Suck it up. I’m in my classroom from 9:05 – 2:15 with kids, with no personal break. None. I’m eating breakfast and lunch with them. (First block is my planning block, so after breakfast in have 90 minutes to take care of things prepping for the day). Cleaning. Sanitizing. Worrying – did I miss something?

I’m already exhausted, and I can’t imagine how my kids feel.

And if that’s not enough on anyone’s plate, here in Louisiana we have two hurricanes rolling in this week. TWO. IN THE SAME WEEK.

 I mean, really. Stop, already.

I’m not having a pity party, I promise. I love my job, and I love my school and my students, but I worry – this is not normal school. And if parents thought that’s what they were getting, it’s just not. Basically, they are getting virtual school, in person.  And they may or may not be notified if there is an exposure in their child’s school.

Even with all that, the kids really do seem happy to be back! And I’ll do everything in my power to keep it that way.

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.

Report from Louisiana: Phase 2, Hybrid School

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Louisiana is number 1 in cases per capita in the nation for Covid-19.  Governor John Bel Edwards has implemented a mask mandate across the state, closed bars, and continues to limit occupancy in restaurants. We are in Phase 2 of reopening for a few more weeks.

Meanwhile, schools are opening. This model looks very different from parish to parish. Most districts have delayed opening of school by a few days or a couple of weeks. Some districts are going virtual only for a period of time while others are using a hybrid model.

I’ve written a great deal about teacher anxiety, and maybe I need to just step away from the computer and the news for a while, because the anxiety is very real to me. What is intolerable to me, however, is the condescension I get over this. How dare anyone judge my feelings and fears. There are several factors that contribute to my fears of bringing Covid home from school to my family; absolutely nobody has the right to judge me for that.

There is a great deal of pressure on teachers right now to be silent about those anxieties, even to the point of reprimand from their administrators. This has not happened to me, but it has happened to someone I know. As teachers, we are expected to put on an enthusiastic face, all optimism and excitement, in order to quell the fears and anxieties of our students. I understand this, and it makes sense (well, not the reprimand). Teachers should never cause anxiety for their students on something like this! As professionals, we know this. Still, it doesn’t mean that in our personal and private lives, we don’t have that fear.

My district is one that is going to try the hybrid model. My day will begin at 6:55 in the classroom receiving students for breakfast, which will be delivered from the cafeteria. When they leave to go to their first class at 7:30, I will have to clean and sanitize the desks. I will have to clean and sanitize desks and computers between each class change throughout the day, as well as any high touch surfaces like door handles, pencil sharpeners, etc. I’ll need to ensure that students sit in the appropriate A/B desk assigned to them for the purpose of contact tracing should someone become infected. Students will eat lunch in my room, and we will have to sanitize desks after that, too.  I’ll have to leave my room by 2:30 everyday (school ends at 2:15) so that the room can be cleaned and sanitized by the custodial staff with the foggers.

In between all of this cleaning, sanitizing, and care, I’ll have to somehow teach the standards of my ELA curriculum, and prepare and upload virtual lessons for the “at home” kids who will be in class the next day. At this point, that almost seems secondary, doesn’t it?

My plan is to do all work 100% digital; I’m going to avoid touching paper and passing papers around. We will do the majority of our work in Google Classroom. When I come home, I’ll leave my shoes outside, shower and change clothes immediately. Overreaction? Maybe. Maybe not. I’d rather be sure.

Louisiana, all across the state, has a very high community spread – it’s anywhere from 94% to 98%, depending on the day. Under the mask mandate, we do seem to be leveling off a bit and hospitalizations are down slightly. The trend is good. There are many, many people who oppose the mask mandate and simply refuse to do it; you’ll see them with masks hanging from one ear, pulled below the nose, under the chin….you’ve seen them. Maybe you ARE them. Whether you believe they work or don’t, just do it. Wear the mask. See if it helps.

As schools across the country have opened, Covid exposures are being reported. Sometimes as “outbreaks” when only a couple of kids have been exposed and are just fine, really. I mean, you have to read these things and make your own judgments. In the Atlanta school with the crowded halls and few kids wearing masks we all saw in that viral photo is reporting nine exposures. The school is closed for two days and is doing virtual instruction. There was no mask mandate in place for that district.

I personally know two teachers who have retired or resigned from our district because of fear of Covid. I am certain there are more. I’ve seen the comments on social media: “Good! Make room for younger teachers!”  Well, no. One of these people IS a young, very gifted STEM teacher. The other is an experienced math teacher who is regarded as one of the top math teachers in our parish. These resignations are a loss to our profession.

So, going forward, I think the point is this. We need to be tolerant of each other’s fears and anxieties. This is all unprecedented and people have heath issues about which you may not be aware and are in no position to judge. We need to be a little patient with teachers too. Yes, it’s true that workers have been out there doing their jobs since March: law enforcement, heath care professionals, store clerks, etc., but as I’ve said before, teachers are a little different in that we are in a closed, unventilated room with up to thirty-three (sometimes more) students. Multiply that by however many classes, three in my case, and we are exposed to nearly 100 kids a day in close contact. It’s daunting.

Be patient with us teachers. Be kind. Be helpful. If your kids are sick or exposed, keep them home.

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.

Report from Louisiana: I’m armed with a spray bottle and a rag.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Admittedly, I am more than a little obsessed with reading about coronavirus and learning everything I can about mitigating the spread in my classroom as I prepare to return to in-person classes soon. The medical and research community is learning so much about the virus, how it spreads, and how we treat it every single day. What we thought we knew in May or June is already out of date.

I’ve been increasingly alarmed about returning to the classroom as regular readers of my posts know. My classroom usually holds 27 kids, it has no ventilation, and the windows don’t open. There is one door. It is a small room, as classrooms go, and so 25 kids in there is a wall to wall, but we always push those limits. I am told this year, as long as Louisiana is in Phase 2, there will be no more than ten students in the room at a time.

Every teacher will be supplied with one spray bottle of HALT, a hospital grade cleaner and disinfectant, and one microfiber rag. We are to use this rag to clean desks between classes, for the entire week, then the rag will be washed.

Every teacher will be provided with a cloth mask, and disposable masks will be available to students who do not have a mask. Masks will be mandatory for all, but “flexibility is expected,” assumingly for students with asthma and other medical conditions.

And pretty much, that’s it.  Good luck.

I’m honestly not sure how long we will be in school; as schools across the country are beginning to open up it does not seem to be going well. In Indiana, there was an issue on Day One at Greenfield Central when an infected student came to school. Also in Indiana, Elwood Senior High School is closing for one week because a staff member was positive for Covid.

White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said on Sunday that “areas with high caseloads and active community spread should ‘distance learn at this moment so we can get this epidemic under control.’” In Louisiana, our community spread rate has been in the upper 90% consistently.

So, I’m kind of resigned at this point; I’ll go back into my classroom which will in no way resemble the normal classroom that everyone wants to return to. It will be distance learning in person. I won’t be able to consult one on one with kids who need help because I can’t get that close to them.  I won’t be able to walk through the room to monitor work or behavior. There can be no fun group projects or activities.

And then someone will get sick; I hope it’s not the teacher on the third floor who has been doing chemo. I hope it’s not the teacher who gets pneumonia every year and struggles with respiratory issues. I hope it’s not the teacher with an auto-immune disease on my floor. I hope it’s not any of the students. I hope it’s not me. I hope none of us bring it home to at-risk family members.

And you know, there are these people who say that teachers are griping and worrying for nothing, that we are lazy and just don’t want to go to work. They point out that retail workers and grocery workers, hospital workers and law enforcement, have been working all along. This is true. They have. And thank goodness for that.

But which of them works in a small, unventilated room enclosed with 10 to 25 people, for six hours a day, for 60 to 90 minutes at a time? Not to take away from what other groups are doing at all, but what we are about to ask of teachers is unprecedented.

So. Armed with my spray bottle, my mask, and my microfiber rag, I’m expected to do what Major League Baseball can’t even do: protect my charges from a pandemic. With all of their money, and all of their resources, MLB can’t protect their million dollar investments.

But me and my spray bottle will try.

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.

Report from Louisiana: Back to School, Part II

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Over the past few weeks I have read everything I can get my hands on about reopening schools, about Covid-19, about teacher anxiety, about parent anxiety, about the disparity of internet access across rural America, and all of the other problems that are coming with the new school year.

Copious amounts of reading and research, and I still don’t have any answers.

This much I know:

Most teachers are freaking out about having to return to in-person classes in a few weeks. Some teachers are just ready to get back to the classroom, Coronavirus be damned.

School systems don’t have any real idea how to do this. There’s no blueprint. Some places have the virus more under control than others, and that has to play into whatever the plans for your district are.

Poor kids and rural kids don’t have the same internet access that suburban middle class or wealth kids do. This makes virtual schooling a challenge.

We need schools open for childcare so parents can work. No, wait, schools are for learning! And sources of food, and socialization! No! Wait!  What are we doing?

So. Much. Confusion.

And so many variances in our plans. In my school district, we are currently scheduled to go with an A/B-day hybrid model with kids coming on alternating Fridays. Parents uncomfortable with this can also opt for a virtual only option. Teachers will have kids in the room every single day.  Students will get on the bus, with or without a mask, sit two to a seat, get breakfast in the cafeteria, take it to their classroom and eat. THEN we will take temperatures.

How many people will have been exposed at that point if a student is carrying the virus?

Teachers are worried about supplies: are there enough thermometers? Do they work? Are there enough supplies for cleaning the classroom all day long? (We have to sanitize between every group that comes in).  What happens when there is an exposure, or an outbreak? New CDC guidelines say you don’t really have to quarantine for 14 days. In fact, you could be back at school before your positive test even comes back. Do we trust the CDC guidelines, now?

Everything has become so political.

So, look. At this point, after all this reading, after all of this ever changing research, I’m going to do what I should have resolved to do in the very beginning and save myself a lot of time. I’m going to protect myself. I’m going to wear my mask, keep my area wiped down, stay six feet away from everyone, all of the time, and take any other measures I deem necessary to protect myself.

I have that right.

There is absolutely nothing I can do about my district’s plans; they never asked for my input, after all. So all I can do is take care of myself. I’ll take care of my students the best I can, but if I don’t have the supplies, I will be limited in what I can do. I hope we have them.

At this point, all we can do is try to survive. I can’t read any more about best practices (we don’t have any), or try to keep up with changing sanitation measures.

I think we will probably be in session long enough to get Chromebooks out, kids accustomed to virtual platforms, classes set up, and then back home for 100% virtual schooling. I give it two weeks.

God knows, I hope I am wrong.

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.

Report from Louisiana: National Anxiety over Return to Schools

By: Pat Austin

As we begin to explore strategies to reopen school this fall, teachers across the country are experiencing anxiety about their own safety, that of their students, and that of their own families. It is an agonizing position.

Many teachers feel they must choose between their health, and the health of their family, or their career.

Teachers are collecting Lysol wipes, pricing room foggers for sanitation, and stockpiling gloves and masks. Some are collecting page protectors that can be sanitized and plastic pencil cases.

Let’s be clear. If we are talking about putting pencils in individual plastic boxes so nobody else touches them, if we are worried about getting Coronavirus from a pencil, we have already lost this debate.

This back-to-school debate has exploded since the President spoke last week and said that schools must reopen or risk losing funding. I’ve been reading one article and study after another all week long, and they keep on coming.

Districts across the country are trying to figure out how to do this safely. It is a Herculean and perhaps impossible task and I do not envy these decision makers.

What absolutely must be done is that each community must decide if opening school is safe for them; to do this there must be low community spread of the virus. Currently, Louisiana has a 97% community spread.  As of this writing, cases are climbing as are hospitalizations.

Across the country, it is estimated that at least one-fourth of our teachers are 50 years old or older. Many teachers are themselves in a high-risk group and many more live with someone who is. While teachers are worried about their students, we are also worried about the health and safety of our own families.

For some teachers, a return to the classroom would also mean self-quarantine from their elderly parents to avoid risk of exposing them as well.

And yes, it is true that essential workers have been on the job for months. But unlike a grocery cashier, a delivery driver, or even a doctor or nurse, a teacher will be confined in a classroom with 25 or more students every single day for at least seven hours. Many of these classrooms are in older buildings with poor ventilation and windows that cannot be opened.

We are looking at returning to school with daily temperature checks of students and staff, seven hours in face masks, and a barrage of cleaning chemicals and heavy sanitation measures. Students will have to keep six feet apart (maybe three feet with masks, but I’d prefer six), there can be no sharing of materials like pencils or Chomebooks (what about library books?). Hand washing has been recommended every two hours. How many portable hand washing stations will that mean for a school with 1200 students or more?

And  all that hand washing goes right out the window once the kid pulls out his cellphone, doesn’t it?

It’s all very dystopian.

We can’t let our overwhelming desire for a normal return cloud our better judgement for safety of all of us.

Teachers across the country have come up with some sensible strategies, and while they are not always easy to do, some of them make sense, like keeping upper grades virtual for nine weeks, or until this is under control, and using our buildings and classrooms for lower grades where kids are less at risk, and for kids needing special services. This would enable classes to be quite small and spread out.

Teachers have a lot of questions and here are just a few of mine:

1. Who is going to wipe down my room between classes every day? Where will all of these disinfectant wipes come from? I haven’t seen any since March. Will we use bleach? How will this affect kids with asthma?

2. Will my classes truly be 10 to 15 students? I normally have 25 or more and we are literally on top of each other in my small room.

3.  Under our proposed Phase 2 hybrid model students will be on an A/B schedule and attend every other Friday. If little Johnny shows up on the wrong Friday, are we sending him home? Keeping him? In class? Who will watch him?

4.  Will there be an isolation room for kids with fever or symptoms to stay until a parent comes to get them?

5. Will there be daily temperature checks? At the front door or in homeroom? Once an infected person is in the building, what’s the point? By the time he gets to homeroom he will have exposed many other people.

6. Who will be quarantined if there is a positive case of COVID-19 in a classroom? For how long?

7. If students have to eat lunch in the classroom, masks will be off and there will be much talking; exposure will still be high. When will the teacher get a break?

8. When the inevitable teacher shortage comes due to early retirements and illness, where will all of the subs come from? Subs are often in high risk categories themselves.

9. Will teachers be required to cover classes when there are no subs?

10.  If masks are required, what of the student who shows up without one, wears it improperly, refuses to wear it, takes it off, shoots it across the room, wears a bra cup on his face instead of a mask, etc. Are we to be mask police, too?

11. What will be done to improve ventilation in classrooms with windows sealed shut?

12. How do we ensure students are washing hands every two hours as the CDC guidelines, and the Louisiana Strong Start guidelines suggest? Will there be handwashing stations throughout the schools? Hand sanitizer stations?

13.  Will schools be provided extra personnel to manage all of this?

I feel like I work at the absolute best high school in the world and I work for the best administrators ever born — no doubt. And our students? They are solid gold; they are loving, kind, wonderful kids and we all feel like family. I want normal school. Don’t be confused. I want normal school. I want to look my students in the eyes, I want to be able to tell if they are okay, and I want to help them when they need me to. I want to keep that crate of snacks for the hungry ones, and I want explain a concept in class so that everyone understands what we are learning and why. I love my kids. I love the hugs in the hall, the high-fives, the ones that come stop in on their way to the bathroom or office just to say hi.

School gives me joy. But how can we have that if we are worried about dying from a pencil?

How?

Here is a short list of some of the things I’ve been reading this week; it’s not homework, you don’t have to read them. But I decided I wanted to collect them in one place, so here they are.

Further Reading:

I Don’t Want to go Back: Many Teachers Are Fearful and Angry over Pressure to Return. (New York Times, 7/11/2020).

“Teachers say crucial questions about how schools will stay clean, keep students physically distanced and prevent further spread of the virus have not been answered. And they feel that their own lives, and those of the family members they come home to, are at stake.”

E-Learning is Inevitable for US High Schools Next Year (Medium, 7/10/2020)

“However, the only way to eliminate the risk of transmission during in-person school would be to know with certainty that no one who enters the building is COVID-19 positive. Unless schools can accurately test every person who enters the building every day with real-time results, the spread of COVID-19 in schools will occur and that type of real-time accurate testing capacity will not be possible by this fall for any school let alone all schools.”

Epidemiologist: Schools Can Open Safely, and Here’s How. (Sherman, TX Herald Democrat, 7/11/2020)

“The focus should be on protecting teachers. It begins with a robust testing program, so they feel safe in the classroom. We know that uncertainty about one’s health and the health of others makes it difficult to feel confident enough to return to work.”

No One Wins, but No One Dies: What School Must Look Like… (The Suitcase Scholar, 7/9/2020)

Because no matter how much you want this school year to look like any other school year, it can not and it will not. If we want to accomplish all three of these goals, here’s how it can be done…

How to Reopen Schools: What Science and Other Countries Teach Us (New York Times, 7/11/2020)

“As school districts across the United States consider whether and how to restart in-person classes, their challenge is complicated by a pair of fundamental uncertainties: No nation has tried to send children back to school with the virus raging at levels like America’s, and the scientific research about transmission in classrooms is limited.”

Nobody Asked Me: A Teacher’s Opinion on School Reopening (Teacher Life Blog, 7/9/2020)

“Remote learning isn’t most people’s first choice, but it is a safer solution in the meantime, while we figure out this global health crisis. It is also hard to imagine how much learning would be taking place in the classroom anyway after they wait in their 75 foot long lines to wash their hands for 20 seconds multiple times a day. School days are already crammed full and now we will be adding in disinfecting constantly, monitoring for symptoms, sending kids to “quarantine”, trying to get ahold of parents, dealing with masks, giving “mask breaks”, etc.”

Study of School Reopening Models and Implementation Approaches During the Covid-19 Pandemic (Covid-19 Literature Report Team whitepaper PDF, 7/6/2020)

“This document is a brief summary of the models and implementation approaches to re-opening schools that focuses on the approaches used in 15 countries for which we were able to identify data.”

One in Four Teachers at Greater Risk from Coronavirus (CNN, 7/10/2020)

“Nearly 1.5 million teachers are at higher risk of serious illness if they contract coronavirus, according to an analysis released Friday evening. These teachers and instructors, about 24% of the total, suffer from health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or obesity, or are older than age 65, which make them more vulnerable, the Kaiser Family Foundation report found.”

These Arizona Teachers Shared a Classroom for Summer School: All 3 contracted Covid-19, 1 died. (USA Today, 7/10/2020)

“The educators decided to teach virtually while together in the same classroom, but took what they thought were extensive measures: They wore masks, they disinfected equipment and kept distance between each other.”

The Case Against Reopening Schools During the Pandemic: by a Fifth Grade Teacher (Washington Post, 7/10/2020)

“Safety is the prerequisite for all learning. Ordinarily, we offer hugs and reassurance when a child is upset. We encourage students to walk their peers to the nurse’s office when they get injured on the playing field. We give high-fives and pats on the back when students achieve their goals. We provide private spaces for students to share confidential information, or to de-escalate from distress. In a social-distancing school setting, everything is inverted. Closeness and warmth are now dangerous. Students and teachers must remain hypervigilant, watching for face mask violations, friends too near, an uncovered cough, unwashed hands, and unsanitized surfaces.”

Nation’s Pediatricians Walk Back Support for In-Person School (NPR, 7/10/2020)

“The American Academy of Pediatrics once again plunged into the growing debate over school reopening with a strong new statement Friday, making clear that while in-person school provides crucial benefits to children, “Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics.” The statement also said that “science and community circumstances must guide decision-making.”

Covid-19 is as Deadly and Dangerous as Ever. (Medium, 7/8/2020)

“The idea that Covid-19 is becoming less dangerous or deadly is false, the latest data reveals. “The virus is as lethal as ever,” researchers at the Harvard Global Health Institute said in a statement. “Deaths and hospitalizations are rising in hot spots around the country. Exactly as public health experts feared.”

Mounting Evidence Suggests Coronavirus is Airborne–but Health Advice has not Caught Up. (Scientific American, 7/8/2020)

“Converging lines of evidence indicate that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, can pass from person to person in tiny droplets called aerosols that waft through the air and accumulate over time. After months of debate about whether people can transmit the virus through exhaled air, there is growing concern among scientists about this transmission route.”

Large Antibody Study Adds to Evidence Herd Immunity to Covid-19 is Unachievable (FOX-17, “Nashville, 7/6/2020)

To achieve what epidemiologists call herd immunity, mathematical modelers suggest at least between 60% and 70% of people would need to be immune to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are two paths to herd immunity for COVID-19: vaccines and infection. Vaccines would be the ideal approach, though experts say its effects can wane over time. Another path would be infection, but there’s much still unknown about COVID-19, including if having the virus makes a person immune to future infection.”

Spike in Cornavirus Cases Means some Schools Won’t Open at all this Fall (EdSource, 7/10/2020)

“As coronavirus cases spike across California, some school districts are making the decision to keep campuses closed to most students and to educate them online next school year. Districts in Los Angeles County, which has more coronavirus cases than any county in the state, are preparing for the possibility of classes being completely online at the start of the school year. In neighboring San Bernardino County, its school district this week announced classes would resume next month online.”

I’m an Epidemiologist and a dad: Here’s Why I think schools should Reopen (Vox, 7/9/2020)

The same will likely be true in schools. The potential risk to teachers, therefore, goes beyond the classroom. Staff risk in schools likely looks similar to the risk of any adult working in a crowded indoor environment during the pandemic. School opening plans must consider teacher safety in addition to the well-being of students.

Report from Louisiana: Opening School

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.

From ABC News:

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.

Report from Louisiana: Protests

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Are people protesting where you live?  I know many cities across the nation are dealing with protests, some peaceful, some not so much.

In Shreveport, there have been protests and marches every weekend since the George Floyd incident exploded in the media. The focus of the protest this weekend seemed to center around the Confederate monument which stands in front of the courthouse. This is not news. The monument has been in litigation between the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the parish administration for years now. There is, in fact, another court date tomorrow. The protesters are angry that the monument is still there and want to see it moved to another location. Plenty of them want it simply destroyed.

I have not seen my city more racially divided since 1988 when riots erupted across Shreveport which drew national attention at the time.

Protesters gathered on the courthouse lawn Saturday and paced back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse bearing large, heavy guns.  Counter-protesters in support of the monument gathered on the sidewalk across the street, also heavily armed. No weapons are allowed on courthouse grounds, of course, and so those with the weapons stayed on the sidewalk while others took turns taking the microphone to speak or share their latest musical endeavor. Club music played over the PA between speakers. For the most part, it was a peaceful demonstration although there were reportedly a couple of arrests and verbal altercations between the two sides.

As photographs of the day, and live video streaming, began to filter onto social media, people expressed outrage and concern at the large number of heavy weapons on both sides.

One car backfire on Texas Street could have turned the whole thing into a very ugly scene.

On the other hand, Louisiana is an open carry state and so as long as your AR15 is visible, it’s just fine to carry it around in public.

The BLM group has vowed to be on the courthouse lawn every Saturday until the monument is removed. As long as they have a permit, they have the right to do this.

All eyes right now will be on the court action tomorrow. The case on the Confederate monument has been in litigation for years, even up to the US Supreme Court (which declined to hear the case); the UDC and the parish are currently using different legal angles and paths to continue fighting in the courts.

Both sides of the issue vow to be in the courtroom tomorrow – this time without the weaponry.

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.