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This essay is by a CreakyJoints member who is a U.S. teacher. They are writing without a byline for privacy reasons.
I updated you recently about what teachers in my district are facing going back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic: Parents who don’t believe in making their children wear masks, schools that aren’t willing to put all the proper protections in place, and administrators who tells high-risk teachers — like yours truly — that they need to either suck it up or find a new job.
Yeah, things are really great!
I last shared my story during the middle of the first week of school, and now, three weeks in, things have only gotten worse.
On the outside, everything seems great. There are fewer kids taking the bus, teachers in masks guiding students into the building, school lunches being eaten in classrooms so there is no overcrowding in the cafeteria.
But you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
Three Weeks and a Handful of COVID Cases
By the end of the first week, my school had its first positive COVID case. A teacher became symptomatic on Friday and tested positive that Monday. The teacher was placed on a 14-day quarantine, and the classroom was scrubbed.
However, the teacher’s students — who are not required to wear masks — were not sent home to quarantine. And continued to walk around the building.
By the end of week three, a handful of teachers and a student have tested positive. A few entire classes were sent home for two weeks, but this did not include every infected teacher’s class.
Mind you, so as to not incite a panic or something, nobody was directly told about these infections and quarantines. We just figured it out when teachers who were in person started teaching from home, and lunches were no longer required to be delivered to three classes.
A Return to the Rules
So now that COVID-19 is in my building, what has been done?
Over the summer, my school seemed to be producing a lot of plans to keep kids safe once school commenced. We received email after email about what we should expect to see. But when we got to school on day one, nothing had been implemented. There were no “six-foot” spacing markers on the floors, no hand sanitizer pumps, no bathroom schedules.
Other than a sense of doom and gloom among certain faculty and a bunch of masked teachers, everything else was pretty normal.
But after losing a number of teachers and students to COVID-19 diagnoses or quarantines, suddenly the rules started being enforced. Emoji stickers popped up on the floor spaced six feet apart. Principals started enforcing bathroom schedules. (However, still no hand sanitizer. Probably trying to wait it out and not spend the money.)
Masks Are Still MIA
Some teachers started following the rules about keeping their masks on and spacing their students. However, others have not.
The other day, I witnessed a class walking in a line, mask-less. When their teacher paused to speak with another teacher, her students started to do the same and chat among themselves. They were standing in close proximity to one another, indoors, not wearing masks. Nobody was corrected. However, their teacher did remove her mask so she could speak clearly to them. She probably wasn’t worried because the Department of Health in our state says it takes 15 minutes of uninterrupted exposure to transmit the virus. Anything less doesn’t seem to pose a threat.
Believe me, I could cough in someone’s face much faster than 15 minutes. I think it takes less than a second.
Several other teachers have not apparently changed anything. I see groups of teachers sitting side by side at the same lunch table in the break room. Some teachers refuse to wear masks when the principals aren’t around, because “their kids are too young to catch it” or “their desk is more than six feet away.” They seem to ignore the fact that there is a stack of homework folders on their desk that they are about to pass back to students, but I digress.
I live with chronic underlying health issues, including a disabling form of inflammatory arthritis, and I feel alone in my concerns. Am I the only one who cares? Am I just overreacting?
I seriously hope not.
Damned If I Do, Damned If I Don’t
At this point, I have accepted the fact that I am probably going to catch COVID-19. And due to my compromised immune system (which I have told my human resources department about and which they did not view as a problem), I will probably have a tough battle with it. I could just resign, but then I would lose the insurance I need to fund this medical battle.
It’s quickly becoming a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario.
Allergy season is underway, so more and more kids are blowing their noses and coughing. Now, nobody knows for sure who is sick. But what parent is going to keep their kid home for allergies?
No, I firmly believe we are all screwed.
And if things progress, this will be my last month as an employed teacher. We’ve already been told if school has to close again, most of us are getting let go. That’s because there’s a belief that a virtual teacher is able to handle four or more classes, so fewer teachers would be needed in an all-virtual setting. Just make a video of a lesson and mark whether or not a student returns their work via email. Unless the most senior teachers turn down virtual work, I have no chance of staying on.
I love teaching, I love my school, and I love my students. But is being part of this broken system worth dying for?
I’m sorry to say, it is not.
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