Teachers in Buildings: Little Gains for Loads of Risk

I just turned my calendar page from July to August. I usually love this time of year. Pre-season football is normally beginning, autumn is next month (which means the holidays are right around the corner), and the best part is a new school year is starting! Instead of anticipation this year, I feel dread.

This week most Arizona educators are heading back to school in a way we could have never imagined. Instead of eagerly greeting students at the door and welcoming them into our classrooms, we are beginning the year distance learning.

Some of my colleagues will begin this uncertain time in education teaching from the safety of their homes. Their districts made the responsible and sensible decision to have them teach remotely.  However, so many of my fellow educators are being REQUIRED to report to their school buildings to teach students who aren’t even there.  Dozens of school staff will be on campus. Most will try to physically distance as much as possible. But, the reality is: The more people on campus, the greater the odds someone will contract, and inevitably spread, COVID19.

I’m struggling with the decision of the superintendents and governing boards to put educators in this position because it: (1) deprofessionalizes teachers, (2) cuts them off from their families, and (3) adds risk to our community.

Let me be clear in saying, I know that district leaders have a difficult job right now. I don’t envy the decisions they have to make. I’m sorry our governor lacks courage and is placing the burden of public health policy upon the shoulders of local school districts. This isn’t their purview and they shouldn’t be forced to accept responsibility for decisions that are outside their realm of expertise.

To Superintendents and Governing Board Members, I say: I know your plate is full, you’re anxious, and you’re attempting the impossible task of satisfying all stakeholders, while adhering to the Governor’s latest executive order. But, educators should not pay the price.

Please let ALL educators have the choice to teach from the location that works best for them, their family, and their community. We should support teachers who choose to teach from their empty classrooms.  But there are others who want or need to teach from home, and this choice should be supported as well.

Teachers Are Professionals

Teachers have education, expertise, knowledge, and experience equal to or greater than many other professions. Governor Ducey repeatedly declares we are “safer at home.” Even when he lifted the stay at home order in mid-May, he suggested employers should continue allowing their employees to telework when possible (and this was before the massive spike in coronavirus cases in Arizona). Currently, most professionals who are able to work remotely are doing just that. Insurance agents, engineers, accountants, bankers, and more are working from home. Even our state agencies are allowing those who can work remotely to do so.

Why are educators being treated differently? We learned a great deal teaching from home in the spring, and we are ready to put that knowledge to use. Educators are more than capable of working from home if we choose. Why are teachers being deprived of the telework option that is so freely extended to the rest of the professional community?

Perhaps it’s because some policy makers believe teachers need to be in school buildings for accountability, but administrators already have ways to hold teachers accountable. They can easily review teachers’ lesson plans, join live learning sessions, monitor grade books, and engage in weekly meetings. There are ways to give teachers professional choice and autonomy while still monitoring performance. But let’s be candid, you cannot pretend to support and value teachers if you don’t trust them to act as professionals. Denying teachers the option of working from home tells them you don’t trust their professionalism. This is not the message we want to send Arizona teachers during a pandemic in a state that already suffers from a teacher shortage.

Teachers Have Families, Too

Many educators have kept their children home, practicing physical distancing for almost five months. They have done this out of an abundance of caution to protect their children’s health. But, they have also done it so their children can still spend time with their grandparents, aunts and uncles, or other vulnerable family members. They have created protective quarantine bubbles around their children so they can safely maintain critical connections with important family members.

Forcing teachers to teach from their classrooms and place their children in daycare basically erases their efforts over the last several months. These children, who have been able to maintain their connections to family members, will have their exposure drastically increased, making them potential spreaders.  Teachers are devastated because they don’t know when their children will be able to safely see their grandparents again. Requiring teachers to work from their school buildings is NOT worth the expense of breaking families apart.

Schools Should PROTECT Our Community, Not Expose It

Beyond the needs of educators, there are public health considerations. Schools are an integral part of the community, not independent of it. Despite the commonly held belief of first graders, teachers do not actually live at school! That means any spread that happens between teachers working together in a school building will transfer to our communities when the workday ends. Teachers, possibly sick from work, will expose their kids who go to daycare, grocery store workers, and every other person and place they visit. Similarly, teachers will bring all of their own experiences and risks right back to school to share with their colleagues. This cycle magnifies risks in our community just as we are beginning to see some improvements in COVID cases and deaths.

Schools are a hub of the community and therefore have a responsibility to its community members. It’s irresponsible to create conditions on our campuses that increase the risk of COVID spread in our surrounding neighborhoods.  We owe it to our students, families, and citizens to do our part. Any person who contracts COVID on one of our campuses can, and probably will, impact the entire community, as shown in the sobering infographic below.

Power-of-social-distancing-Gavi

I know school starts this week for many districts. Educators and staff members will be arriving on their campuses as required. It’s not too late to change course. Superintendents and Governing Boards can take a different path and change their minds.  I urge district leaders to rethink their decisions. Any staff member able to perform their job duties from home should be given that option. Every human we remove from our campuses lessens the risk of community spread. Shouldn’t this be the social responsibility of any entity that is meant to serve its community?

Infographic credit: http://www.gavi.org

 

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