Potential school reopenings during the pandemic leave teachers frightened

schools reopening Betsy DeVos
Photo via The White House/Flickr (Public Domain)

As government officials like President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos pressure schools to open for the fall semester, teachers are concerned about how it could affect their health. So, will schools reopen, and how frightened are teachers about that prospect?

New data from the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests a sense of fear is not unfounded. The study found that 24% of American teachers “have a condition that puts them at higher risk of serious illness from coronavirus.” That’s 1.47 million teachers. 

“The challenge for school systems and for teachers in particular is the sheer volume of traffic and tight quarters in many school environments, which may make social distancing a significant challenge in many settings,” the study says. “For higher-risk teachers, failure to achieve safe working conditions could have very serious results.” 

One school district in rural Arizona could be an example of what could happen if schools reopen too soon. According to NPR, three teachers in the area shared a classroom for digital teaching, and one of the teachers was infected with COVID-19 and subsequently died. 

Despite the risks involved in reopening schools, Trump has threatened to pull federal funding from public schools that don’t resume in-person classes in August (the Trump Administration has since backpedaled on that threat.) 

Several governors have echoed the same sentiment, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. He later announced schools could remain online for the time being, after Austin Public Health Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said in-person teaching could lead to between 40-1,370 student deaths in Travis County, according to KXAN

Although many teachers have emphasized that they miss teaching in the classroom, they are also frustrated that federal and state governments are eager to reopen schools even as COVID-19 cases surge—even though schools do have the option to move to remote learning. 

Chris Guerrieri, a teacher at Palm Avenue Exceptional Student Center in Jacksonville, Florida, told USA Today said he feels like teachers are pawns in a political game. 

“I think the starting point for every teacher is that we want to be back in school,” he said. “I think being back in school is what’s best for the kids, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask to be back in school safely—safe for us and safe for the kids.”

Newsweek reported that teachers are so worried about dying because of a COVID-19 spike in their classroom they are writing their wills. Teacher Jessica Schwinn said teachers are also getting medical power of attorney established and taking out extra life insurance. 

“It’s pretty atrocious that in preparation for returning to school this fall, teachers are writing wills, getting medical power of attorney established, and taking out extra life insurance,” Schwinn said. “This country has chosen its priorities. It’s money over people.”

On Aug. 2, it was reported that a junior high school in Indiana discovered a student had tested positive for COVID-19 on the first day of the new school year. The student was in classes for at least part of the day.

On Aug. 3, it was reported that 260 employees in a suburban Atlanta school system had tested positive for coronavirus or had been exposed to the disease. Gwinnett County schools were already set to open for online-learning on Aug. 12. The majority of the employees apparently were infected via community spread, not by coming in to work. It’s unclear if the school system will change its approach to the 2020-21 school year.

More education coronavirus news:

Sources: Kaiser Family Foundation, KXAN, USA Today, Newsweek, NPR

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