Inside: Estate and will planning, unobtainable testing requirements, breaking social distancing guidelines – here’s what we’re REALLY asking of teachers when we re-open schools and send kids back to the classroom.
“I’m super nervous. I wish I could take the year off.”
I’ve known Amelia* for over a decade now. We met bartending in our college days and have stayed friends ever since. *All names have been changed to protect privacy.
Amelia’s been teaching for years and loves her job, though it hasn’t always been easy.
She spent the first part of her teaching career in an underprivileged high school where fights broke out almost daily.
But this year has Amelia more worried than ever before.
Parents have a choice. Teachers don’t.
Nearly the entire country finished the 2019-2020 school year online due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States.
Some states and school districts are making plans to start the 2020-2021 school year completely online as well.
Many states and districts are offering both in-person and distance learning options.
In those cases, parents have a choice between in-person learning and remote learning — but teachers don’t.
There are far more teachers who want to teach remotely than those who want to teach in the classroom, under current conditions.
So teachers are being forced back into the classroom even when they are scared to do so or even if they fall into the high-risk category for complications from COVID-19.
Teachers want to be in the classroom, but not at any cost
Every teacher I’ve talked to wants to be back in the classroom. I think we can all pretty much agree that we all want things to go back to normal.
But things aren’t normal right now.
In Texas, new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are rising dramatically. This trend is unfortunately not unique to Texas.
Current Texas state guidelines mandate that gatherings of non-family members should not exceed 10 persons.
State law requires a 22-1 student to teacher ratio, which is twice the number allowed for “gatherings.” Even with some students choosing online learning models, it remains to be seen how students will be able to be adequately distanced in the classroom.
Then there’s the reality that teachers and students will be in the same room together for 7-8 hours a a day, 5 days a week. It’s widely accepted that increased length of exposure leads to increased risk for transmission of COVID-19. (source)
All of this adds up to a very risky situation for students and teachers.
What exactly is the risk to teachers?
Just like anyone else who has to go into a risky situation, teachers are worried about their own health.
Teachers often have to choose between their own well-being and their job
The average teacher age in the United States is 42 years old. However, nearly 19% of teachers are 55 years of age or older, which puts them in the high risk category.
Then there are the teachers with health concerns.
Like Jared*, who teaches at one of the largest school districts in the country. Being immunocompromised, Jared is at risk for serious complications, if he should catch COVID-19.
However, in order to request teaching via the remote learning options offered by his district, Jared would be forced to reveal his health condition.
Risk his life? Or risk loss of privacy and potential discrimination?
That is Jared’s choice.
And the true kicker: going public with his medical history wouldn’t guarantee Jared the opportunity to teach remotely. But not revealing it pretty much guarantees that he won’t be teaching remotely unless the district moves to an online-only model.
Another concern for teachers is the risk of bringing the disease home to their family.
Amelia worries that she could expose her husband and young daughter to the disease. And she’s not alone in that fear.
Marina* works in administration at a large university in Florida, where the positivity rate among students is 26% — and the fall semester hasn’t even officially started yet. (source)
Not only is Marina concerned about going back to the office herself, but she is worried about her two daughters.
Because both her own job and her husband’s job are considered essential, Marina has no choice but to send her oldest daughter back to the classroom, and her youngest to day care.
Many teachers don’t have the choice about going back to in-person schooling, which means that they don’t have a choice for their own children.
What are schools doing to address teachers’ concerns?
This of course varies widely by school, by district, and by state.
Rachel teaches at a small district in California and says she feels “super supported by [the] administration and the district.” The school board polled teachers regarding how comfortable they are with returning to the classroom, as well as if they have any health issues that would be best suited to remote learning situations.
Contrast that with Houston Independent School District (which has over 200,000 students and nearly 30,000 employees. Earlier this month, HISD encouraged teachers to take advantage of an estate planning webinar, as a way to “remove many burdens from surviving family members during a special time.”
The above tweet has since been deleted, after outrage among teachers and community members.
Unrealistic expectations for testing
Health concerns get a lot of attention, but another problem with re-opening is the actual logistics of what school will look like.
How do schools keep teachers and students safe?
What will testing look like? Should testing even take place?
Though they have pushed for re-opening schools, the American Academy of Pediatrics concedes that it isn’t possible to recoup all lost instructional time or have the same expectations for students as in normal years.
In their Guidance for School Re-Entry, the AAP warns, “If the academic expectations are unrealistic, school will likely become a source of further distress for students (and educators) at a time when they need additional support.” (source)
However, here in Texas, schools are still expected to plan for the annual STAAR test — intensive standardized testing that determines funding and is stressful enough on a “normal” year.
Let’s think about that for a second and how that would look during a pandemic.
This is an example of REAL testing requirements distributed to one Texas district prior to re-opening.
Safety protocols include:
- Face coverings are required for all staff and face shields used when 6ft social distancing cannot be maintained. — which will be necessary based on the testing procedures below
- Staff, students, and parents must sanitize hands before entering the building.
- Testing is by appointment only and appointments are suggested to be staggered as much as possible.
- Only 1 parent is allowed inside the building to wait for their child. Parents/guardians must sit 6ft apart while waiting.
- Students and visitors must complete health screening questionnaires prior to entering the building, to determine if they have symptoms of COVID. This is based on the honor system.
- Teachers that administer the test must wear gloves and these gloves must be changed after each student.
- Students are required to wear masks during testing.
- New pencils must be used for every student.
- Plexiglass partitions are recommended to create a barrier between test administrators and students. — which doesn’t work when TAs are expected to turn the test book pages for students, as you’ll see below.
- Desks, chairs, and partitions must be sanitized after each student.
Testing Procedures during COVID-19:
- Teachers are required to wear face shields and masks.
- The test booklet is “non-consumable,” which means that it needs to be re-used for multiple students.
- Teachers are instructed to take apart the test booklets and laminate every single page, so that the books can be sanitized between students.
- If laminating is not an option, teachers are supposed to place each page in a plastic sheet protector or ziplock bag. These sheet protectors and bags must be discarded after each student, and the book must be re-prepared with new sheet protectors.
- Students are not allowed to touch the books; a test administrator must turn each page, using gloves.
- This would require breaking the mandated 6-ft social distancing rule, which the school district acknowledges.
If that sounds complicated and impractical, that’s because it is.
The testing procedures listed above are for ESL and Special Education placement exams. Just imagine this magnified to the scale of week-long standardized testing for the entire school. The entire state.
It doesn’t make sense.
Why don’t teachers go on strike?
Things are different in each state, but in Texas collective bargaining and the right to strike are both outlawed (with a few exceptions). (source)
It goes beyond simply losing their jobs. If teachers in Texas go on strike, they can have their certification and pensions stripped. (source)
They would lose everything they’ve worked for and their teaching career.
The choice for teachers in Texas is exposure to a potentially deadly disease or ending their teaching career.
Who makes the decision to re-open schools?
Some decisions regarding what school looks like are left up to local school officials. However, they are expected to follow state mandates.
Rachel in California says that her district has been listening to teachers’ concerns. However, she says that the big decisions are in the hands of the governor and health officials.
And of course there is the threat of losing federal funding, as both the President and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have said they will withhold funding if districts do not fully re-open schools. Though whether that is something they can legally do remains to be seen. (source)
Teachers need our support now more than ever
Over the years I’ve written about how to support our teachers — from donating school supplies to teacher appreciation gifts they’ll actually use.
However, this year our teachers need our support…AND our voices.
All of the teachers I spoke with for this piece asked to remain anonymous. They want the public to know what is really being asked of them, but are worried that speaking out publicly would put their career at risk.
But WE can speak up for them.
We can call our representatives, from the local level all the way to our governors and beyond. We can petition our school boards for SAFE options for our teachers and our kids.
Look, I get that online learning is a burden on parents. Trying to run a full-time business and teach two kids at the same time was not easy last spring.
I also know that there are households where parents have to work outside the home. But is it really fair to ask teachers to take on such extraordinary risks to provide childcare?
There is no perfect answer.
All I know is that we are asking of teachers right now is NOT ok.
Let’s show them that we have their back.