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'At what cost?' | St. Louis area teachers weigh in on reopening plans during COVID-19 pandemic

5 On Your Side talked to multiple teachers at different districts around the St. Louis area about their feelings on going back to school during the pandemic

ST. LOUIS — While many parents are ready to end their homeschooling careers and some lawmakers are pushing for schools to reopen despite a rise in COVID-19 cases in many parts of the country, this puts many teachers who have to return to the classroom in a difficult position. 

Earlier this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement in support of reopening schools, due to evidence that Coronavirus cases in children are relatively low and an overall preference for in-person education. However, Friday, the AAP walked that back to clarify that they stand with educators. Their new statement asserts schools should reopen in person only where and when safety guidelines are able to be met.

5 On Your Side spoke with several teachers who wished to speak up as their school administrations consider reopening plans. Here are their stories as told to Abby Llorico, edited for brevity and clarity.

Upper-elementary school teacher, St. Charles County:

“Going back to school is just super scary for me. If we’re so concerned about kids trading masks  then why are we even having the discussion of having kids in school? The thought that we’re going to use our kids as test subjects with a novel virus that attacks your lungs is just ludicrous to me. I guess I have the unique perspective of being an elementary school teacher but also being the parent of an elementary school student that is high risk. My daughter has one good functioning lung, she has a lung disease. And so I’m not willing to use her as a test subject, and then all the other kids that have asthma—like, there are kids that have high risk. I literally potentially may have to choose between the health of my child and my job.

“The fact that these conversations are being had at the district level are being had with districts and with teachers via Zoom, should tell you something. We’re not gathering ourselves. But we’re talking about bringing in children to the school.

"It’s a setup for failure, it’s a setup for, let’s return to school, see what happens, and then when cases spike, then what do we do? I get that in-person schooling is the best educational option and I agree with that 110% but at what costs? When do we decide it is not the best option for kids, is it when so many kids get sick is it when children start dying? There have been kids that have passed from this virus. Yes it is a low percentage but what if your child or your student is one of those?

“The crisis learning that happened at the end of the year last year, I will admit, was not the best. We were in crisis mode, it was just staying afloat. But what districts are saying this year for the virtual learning is it’s going to be like a regular school day. If I am teaching remotely, it’s going to be six hours of instruction. It’s going to be remote. Is it going to be the same as in person? No. Is there going to be that human interaction that same way via Zoom? No. But, your health isn’t in jeopardy.

 “As an educator, who loves teaching, I have been teaching for over two decades, and I have enjoyed every moment of being in the classroom--I can proudly say in over two decades of teaching I have never once yelled at a child I have never once had a bad parent interaction. I have loved every moment in the classroom, the most challenging moments I have loved down to the most joyous moments. I would love nothing more than to be educating children in person this school year. It is my passion, it drives me, I feel a huge void not being in the classroom. Because I love children so much, I put them first always. And in this situation, it is not the safest environment for children. I do not believe that we should be using our kids as test studies. This is a novel virus that has killed so many people. And to throw our kids out there when we’re taking these other precautions like holding district meetings via Zoom, holding staff meetings via Zoom, like we’re doing all this other stuff via Zoom, why are we then a month later going to have our kids in person learning in school settings where if you are a teacher you know it is not possible to socially distance?

“My gut and my teaching experience says that there is going to be a spike in numbers that are going to run throughout the school and then we’re going to end up online anyway.

K-8 Computer Teacher, Parochial School:

“Seeing every single kid in the school, I would have to like sanitize everything between every class, that could get very time consuming. I would think the school would provide at least the sanitizers and the wipes, things like that. I bought my own N-95 masks, but one pack of ten was 60 dollars.

“In a few months I’m going to be 65. I have comorbidities, I’m at the high risk level, let’s put it that way. So that definitely concerns me, especially because I don’t know that especially younger kids will be required to wear masks.

(Asked about the fact that kids don’t seem to get the virus as easily) “That’s one more think that could change because as time goes on. Things that they said originally we keep finding out, well, no, that’s not really the case. It’s not just the old people who get it, it’s now all the younger people who are mainly getting it.

“There’s just all this stuff and then once it starts, a ton of things you didn’t think of before are going to come up.”

High school science teacher, St. Louis County:

“Mainly I’m thinking about, obviously first the safety of students and staff and how we’re going to be able to maintain safety and not spread COVID-19 but also the thing I’m thinking about too is to also provide them with a quality education. I teach science so I know there’s a lot of labs that I do. So just the ability to have students work together is going to be limited,  so I just wonder how my effectiveness of teaching is going to be. So many of our kids, just learning from being on quarantine, they don’t do well with just your, ‘hey let’s just have a lecture do these worksheet’ type things. My style of teaching is a lot of doing hands-on and modeling and students just learn so much more from that that I’m really concerned they’re going to lose that ability because having to separate them.  

“Honestly I wish school would start yesterday. I know my own personal children, my own child is in high school, and they just need that social contact, and I know some kids are fighting depression and different things like that that they want to have that interaction with other students and they need a routine. If anything these kids need a huge routine, I know so many kids are staying up til 3 in the morning and sleeping til 1 in the afternoon. They just need structure, and I think it’s a good thing.

“You don’t know every kid’s situation, I had a kid who just came into my classroom but he was living in a homeless shelter. So how do you do online school when you’re not even sure where you’re going to live the next day? So there’s a lot of inequality in education that needs to be addressed, especially if we end up going to online schooling. And that’s one thing, like, I want us to go back to school because I want all of those kids to come, they need a place to go. A lot of kids, it’s their meal, you know? It’s how they get their food, it’s where they get their security, it’s almost their whole life, and a lot of them don’t have good situations at home so when they come to school it’s their stability.

“I’m so worried that they’re going to start school and they’re going to be yanked out, which that most likely is going to happen, and they’re just going to be—it’s going to crush their morale.

“How do we provide a quality education but still maintain safety for those kids? I think that’s like the million dollar question that everyone is trying to answer and I don’t think there’s really a good answer that I know of.

“I’m definitely going to use masks, whether they require them or not, I just feel for my own safety and I want the students to use them, and I guess my big concern is we have problems having students just wear IDs in school, how are we going to make them wear masks? Is it going to be required, is it not? And if you know highschoolers, they like to be close to each other and they’re very social creatures, so I just wonder how serious they’re going to take it.

“I don’t know how to prepare as a teacher, should I be getting things done over the summer, preparing online lectures and things like that, or should I hold off and wait until I hear what’s going to happen? I have a feeling its’ going to be a very fluid situation where it’s going to change literally week by week and we’re just going to have to be able to adapt very very quickly. It’s going to be super stressful.”

Kindergarten teacher, St. Louis County:

“On one hand I’m very excited about going back and teaching. It’s what I do, it’s what I love. So I’m excited about that. I know it’s going to look different, but on that same note there is that concern of what happens when a child has it and doesn’t know? Maybe they’re asymptomatic and they bring it to me or another teacher and I bring it home, and my husband’s a teacher as well, so he shares it with students, who are teenagers.

“Kids learn better from a teacher than a parent. Even my own child, me, being a kindergarten teacher had a kindergartener last year and even teaching her, she learns differently than she would from her own teacher. Kids just act differently for their parents and that’s just how it is. And so for that reason I’m happy she’s going back to school, but on the same note I am concerned with her being around so many other kids.

“One of my biggest concerns with going back to school and our children going back to school is now we’re almost going to have to self quarantine all over again from people in our lives that you know are older, and they have weakened immune systems, such as my parents, my in-laws, my husband’s parents.

“I would hope that plans, backup plans are being made. So what happens if  a teacher gets the Coronavirus? Does that whole class get quarantined? Not only a backup plan but kind of a backup plan for the backup plan, you know? Just, as many plans as we can possibly put in place for these unsure times.

“I hope that parents keep in mind the sensitivity to this and they are social distancing themselves and they’re not putting themselves in harm’s way. I also hope that parents keep in mind that this is an unprecedented time, we’ve never done this before. We need to keep our classes safe and ourselves safe.”

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