Someone is going to get hurt

Why are we gambling with lives in a rush to re-open public school buildings?

I just left Walgreens where I bought a new thermometer. I had registered a temp of 99.9 degrees F at a funeral service this morning and wanted to be sure that the reading had more to do with the heat of the sun outside than it did with my own internal temperature.

As I checked out, the clerk asked if I would like to make a donation to “teachers.” She explained that the funds would make possible the donation of supplies this coming school year.

I am a teacher. I made a donation.

The next clerk over said, “People have been screaming at me all day. They won’t give teachers anything.”

My clerk said, “Well, just explain that every year they buy a lot of their own supplies.”

“Most of their supplies,” I said.

The next clerk over shook her head. “Everyone is screaming because teachers don’t want to go back (to school). I’m not going to argue with anyone.”

I took my thermometer and left.

Somehow, teachers became the bad guys this summer. But here in my home state, I had faith that I could count on our governor to defend us. Even protect us. After all, she is the same governor who raged against all of the moronic outcries against masks and social distancing. Told them to “Knock it off,” in fact. She closed our school buildings down and encouraged us to soldier on.

She’s the same governor who, two days ago, rolled back limits on house parties from 25 to 15. The same governor who this week also moved up “last call” at bars and restaurants to 11 p.m. The same governor who is threatening to close our beautiful beaches again because people are not following the rules. They’re not behaving. Or, let’s just say, they’re acting like kids.

I may have been wrong to count on the governor.

According to our local NBC affiliate, on the very same day she enforced these stricter Covid regulations, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo rattled our well-being and dashed our collective hopes of continuing school in a safe and secure virtual setting when she dismissed public health concerns with a terse “…teachers are no different from other professions that have to go to work, like nurses.”

A fatally flawed argument. Just for the record, Governor, my 9th graders would never get away with this argument in an essay.

We have multiple amazing and effective online resources now. The delivery of lessons, guidance, mentorship, emotional support, et al., in no way requires what people are now calling “in-person” teaching.

I respect and cherish our medical community, and If I could find a way to make nursing possible through the internet, I would. Nurses are fearless servants in performing the job they signed up for.

In my view, there is only one way to guarantee safety in our schools during this health crisis: virtual learning. Keep our kids safe at home. Protect our teachers. We have developed good ways to do this. Let us do our jobs, please, in the safest way possible.

Today, my husband and I cannot legally invite our entire family over for dinner, according to the governor, but I can get locked into a building for 7 hours a day, five days a week, with about 1,000 individuals and the billions of droplets that spring from their faces every day.

I’ve got a lot to say about this. But there are so many voices, loud voices, shrill voices, that no one can hear me or my worried colleagues.

Governor, without warning, you closed the doors of our school in March, gave us one week’s “vacation” to figure out how to continue teaching online, and incrementally pushed out the return to the building date until we reached the painful end of the year. There were 16-hour days, multiple hours of professional development, countless interventions for unresponsive students, searches for better platforms and materials. And, while we played a good part of this by ear thanks to this incremental method, we made it work. And it worked well.

Now that we’ve developed effective skills, your insistence on “in-person” education can only be motivated by the desire to reflect that progress is being made. To make a good impression. Tell me, who is it that you are impressing?

-The Walgreens trolls who want to trash teachers?

-The parents who don’t want to parent during a typical school day?

-Social media influencers?

-People in business who have never professionally entered a classroom?

-The deli person I saw waiting on customers and slicing meat with her mask under her nose?

-The legislators who, in the RI State House, only returned to work after $166,000 of personal plexiglass bubble space was installed to protect each of them from infection?

Here’s the thing about teachers: Despite what we know, what recent history has taught us, and the scores of back to school failures we’ve already seen in Georgia and elsewhere, we will fight our own fears, re-enter our schools, and take the punches that are being thrown by a misguided and uninformed populace. When it all comes crashing down, when our elementary cherubs start testing positive, or our high schoolers and their teachers find themselves intubated in an ICU, it will have been a risky experiment that came at a very high cost.

Ask any teacher: our students are part of our lives. We invest our time, our commitment and our affection into each and every one of them. We don’t forget them after graduation. They are part of us, and we them. Forever. Really.

We love seeing them in person. We do not prefer virtual learning. We want to see them in three dimensions. Every day. But forcing us back into schools without answers is too rash. Too ill-advised.

There are still too many questions about Covid begging for answers. Please do not gamble with our lives.

I am not a nurse. Nor am I a politician.

I am a teacher who has something to say. Will anyone listen?

Looking at the world through a unique lens, with love, logic and a sense of humor. Former journalist, now teacher of high school journalism and English.

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