“Should I return to school and teach on August 31st or not?”

Photo by
Shamila Chaudhary

“Dear PoPville,

I am faced with a looming question and I need help. Should I return to school and teach on August 31st or not? Today, there are about 5,000 public school teachers in Washington, DC facing that same question. Countless families are also hoping it is safe, but no one can be sure.

Teachers scour for reliable information as decisions take place above our heads. Important school-related news is released to the public before we are made aware. It feels like, by design, we are the last to know. This keeps us on guard, searching feverishly for the full story about what we are facing in the fall.

My wife and I are expecting a daughter on October 29th, but I am expected to return to school to start teaching on August 31st. I call that date the point of no return as I talk with family and friends. My gallows humor hardly disguises that I am afraid. I fear for students, for colleagues, for my family and myself.

On February 28, Trump said that coronavirus will “disappear” like a “miracle”. Since then, the Federal government has offered little by way of policy or resources to set conditions for such a miraculous event. This magical thinking creeps into planning discussions at both community and national levels. They make plans to return while ignoring the glaring realities that come with a viral threat. If this is a war, we are slowly and quietly losing with no reprieve from the threat of COVID.

In a recent interview, Betsy DeVos said, “We clearly have to follow guidelines around hygiene, wearing masks when appropriate and ensuring that teachers have distance and protection, but this can be done,” This is a bad-faith argument to make as she shunts funding away from public education. The New York Times carried an op-ed by Dr. Jessica Calarco, making the case that Secretary DeVos has put families and school administrators in an impossible situation. The CCSSO estimates that schools will need 245 Billion Dollars for k-12 schools to open up safely, The Department of Education, however, only funded $13.5 Billion through the CARES Act.

My heart sinks as overwhelmed, under-resourced decision-makers wrestle with the question, “How are we going to go back to school?” instead of unifying their voices to demand an honest effort from our Federal Government.

It seems reasonable to expect that no one should return to school until the federal government offers clear, specific policies and resources to guarantee the health and safety of students and teachers. On July, 15th George Will observed, “The worst is still to come,” and shared a staggering statistic: Germany, with a population of 80.2 million, had 159 new cases, while Florida, with a population of 21.5 million, had 15,300. Cases and deaths continue to rise across the nation while comparable countries are stabilizing. The Federal government has failed to mount an adequate response, but insist that students and teachers return to school. They can’t have it both ways, and we must unite to avoid the gruesome, foreseeable outcome.

We are experiencing a crisis of faith in our federal leadership, but before we cross the point of no return, we can join together to face this existential threat by demanding a serious response from The United States Federal Government. Maybe that is the miracle: A moment where administrators, parents, teachers, factory workers, medical professionals, scientists, academics, policymakers, lawyers, doctors, municipal workers, retirees, and faith leaders – where we all demand a response to COVID that does not involve human sacrifice.

Everyone’s world has been turned upside down during these past few months, and 140,000 people have lost their lives. Children, Parents, Grandparents, Teachers… In a moment that feels like madness, who is better prepared than the educators to appeal for logic, empathy, justice, truth, and decency. We want to go back and teach, we miss our students… but right now, we need to lead.

-A 2nd Grade Teacher in DC writing on behalf of teachers across the country.”

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