12 Winters Blog

An Open Letter to the 30%

Posted in Uncategorized by Ted Morrissey on October 17, 2020

As a schoolteacher my number-one priority is my students’ safety. An English and speech teacher, I’m charged with improving their reading, writing, speaking, listening and thinking skills, but, by mandate, curricular objectives are secondary to assuring my students’ physical and emotional well-being. To that end, I appeal to the 30 percent of parents in my district who appear open to reason and rationality: Keep your children home. Allow them to be remote learners for their safety and the safety of your family.

The Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics analyzed the school district’s “Return to Learning” plans and found them “insufficient.” In other words, the schools are not safe. The Academy’s final recommendation: “We recommend schools not open, unless the recommended modifications/clarifications are made to protect the health and safety of students and staff.” (see the report)

The Academy, which analyzed the plans at the request of the Illinois Education Association and our local association, identified five areas of concern: 1) the classrooms are overcrowded and cannot establish the three feet or six feet of social distancing recommended, depending on the age of the students; 2) students move from class to class in the upper grades, which makes keeping areas sanitized next to impossible; 3) the hallways and stairwells are overcrowded and cannot establish proper social distancing during passing periods, regardless of traffic flow; 4) during lunch, an extended time when masks cannot be worn, students are crowded into spaces that are too small and unventilated; and 5) bathroom hygiene is questionable.

If the schools could rectify these problems, then they could be deemed safe by the Academy, but they cannot. In spite of everyone’s best efforts — from administrators to teachers to aides to custodians to cooks to bus drivers and to the students themselves (who have been amazingly cooperative) — the physical reality of the buildings and the way human beings function cannot be overcome. Making the schools safe from Covid-19 infection is literally impossible.

We have been operating in a hybrid model that splits the student body into two groups who have been attending two days a week (Mondays are non-attendance days devoted to remote learning and planning). The hybrid model was not safe, according to the Academy’s standards, but it came closer to being acceptable. During the first quarter, we had Covid-positive students and staff, and many people had to quarantine or isolate.

According to surveys, the relative success of the hybrid model was irrelevant to about 70% of parents in the district, and they wanted to see the schools go to full attendance. The Board of Education acquiesced to the majority, even though Covid numbers are on the rise in the country, in the state, in the county, in the community, and in the school buildings. Thus far, no amount of data or logic or appeal to compassion has been able to move the Board off their decision to start full attendance beginning next week.

It is a surreal situation for those of us who are trapped. In recognition of the schools’ dangerousness, students have been allowed to opt for full remote from the start of the year. At first it was a small percentage (about 10 percent at the high school), but it grew throughout the first nine weeks; and since the Board’s decision to move to full attendance, there has been a spike in students moving to full-remote status, especially among older students.

Moreover, teachers who have special medical situations — confirmed by a doctor — are being allowed to teach remotely now that we are transitioning to full attendance. I’m thankful that some teachers are allowed that option. However, for the rest of us — those who cannot establish a medical necessity for teaching remotely — we have no choice. We must teach in buildings that the American Academy of Pediatrics deems unsafe, and the Board, too, must understand on some level are unsafe: otherwise, why would they allow students and some staff to opt out of attendance?

This letter is addressed to the 30 percent of parents who seem open to logic and rationality based on scientific data. The other 70 percent — who, I would wager, are getting their information from faulty sources — are beyond being reached at this point.

For the sake of your children’s safety and the safety of your families, do not send them into unsafe school buildings. My colleagues and I will continue to do our best to make their remote-learning experiences beneficial. It can never be the same as in-person learning, but at the same time in-person learning during a deadly pandemic is not the school situation we’re all used to either.

I know remote learning is challenging for many students and parents — perhaps traumatic for some. I get it, and I sympathize. But the difficulties have no bearing on whether or not schools are safe. They are not. We must deal with the problems associated with remote learning — no question — but the solution is not to send children into dangerous spaces.

Again, I write and post this because I am mandated by law to safeguard the health and safety of the children in my charge. At this time, in-person learning is inherently dangerous, and I would be shirking my responsibility as an educator (and, frankly, as a human being) to turn a blind-eye to the reality of the situation.

The photo is not from my school. It is from this site: https://www.kunr.org/post/special-education-faces-additional-challenges-person-learning-during-covid-19#stream/0

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