Teachers afraid, confused about opening schools in a pandemic

Perhaps unlike any previous school year, teachers are looking to 2020-21 with dread. On top of their fears about the coronavirus, there is confusion about just what they’re getting into.

“As I talk to educators across the state there is a great deal of concern, fear and confusion surrounding the reopening of schools,” Kentucky Education Association President Eddie Campbell told the legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education July 7.

As schools plan reopening, “The unknowns outweigh the finished plans,” Valarie Honeycutt Spears reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. That worries teachers like Kathleen Slattery Lewis, a second-grade teacher in Ashland, who told Spears, “Seems like it’s a logistical nightmare.”
“She wonders how she will interact safely with small groups of students who need extra help understanding an academic concept,” Spears writes. “What happens if her students come to school without a mask, or if a mask gets dirty and a student needs another? Will her students have to sit at their desks all day? Can she keep them six feet apart on the playground?”
The KEA’s Campbell said teachers have three main worries: resources, responsibilities and health and safety.
“In addition to routine duties, Campbell said, in the era of covid, teachers may have to take on distance learning, work longer days, help with temperature checks, cover other classes, maintain logs, help with contact tracing and sanitize classrooms with no additional compensation or assurance of protection,” Spears reports. “To make the reopening work, it will be important to clearly define the educator workday, to require protections and to set reasonable job expectations for educators, said Campbell.”

Union leaders’ job is to be “blustery and talk about their members’ concerns,” but “behind that is real fear,” Louisville Courier Journal education reporter Mandy McLaren said on KET’s “Comment on Kentucky” July 10.

Montgomery County teacher Sammi Davis Hatfield told Spears that she is “fully confident” that county school officials will keep students and employees safe, but “We are living in uncertain times,” and she has personal concerns, Spears reports: “The 47-year-old, a teacher for 23 years, said she has health issues that make her more susceptible ‘to the scary effects of this virus.’ Her husband, also a teacher, is a cancer survivor and severe diabetic. Her 6-year-old son has a genetic condition called Prader-Willi Syndrome, and that makes him more vulnerable.”

“I’m a teacher, a mother, a wife, and I’m human. I’m scared,” she said. “Many teachers are parents of immune compromised children, spouses of those who are also at risk, and many are caregivers for elderly parents. We just aren’t willing to offer up a family member as a sacrificial lamb.”
She also voiced concern about the overall effect on instruction: “We struggle to acquire subs already, and because so many of them are retired teachers and are more susceptible, I can’t imagine that they’ll be waiting in line to cover for me.”

“Gov. Andy Beshear said in an interview with WLEX on Thursday that school officials should not be asking educators with underlying health conditions who are at serious risk if they contract COVID to come back to school in person,” Spears reports. “He said those teachers and staff members should be given the option of performing services that don’t require them to go into schools every day.”

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