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With an uptick of cases less than six weeks from the first bell, there is no way to safely open up Oregon schools in the Fall.

Even a well-designed plan that includes an arms-length of protocols that would have to be in place and strictly enforced cannot, with certainty, protect students, teachers, and support staff. Those guidelines would also have to factor in the potential impact on family members in the home who may be inadvertent recipients of a potentially deadly disease – or who send their child to school with a backpack, lunch and a fresh case of the COVID-19, courtesy of an irresponsible or unwitting adult. A simple temperature check at the door simply won’t cut when dealing with children who are often times asymptomatic. It’s a logistical nightmare for districts to consider all of the safeguards that have to be in place to make a return to school a sensible choice.

A single reported new case within the walls of a classroom puts everyone at risk. Let’s assume a seasoned, veteran teacher in his/her 50’s or even 60’s is diagnosed positive. How is that going to be handled administratively? Who gets tested? Are students and other teachers quarantined for two weeks? What about family members and their possible exposure as a result of their child being in contact with the teacher? While contact tracing might actually be relatively easy in a self-contained classroom, you can see the dilemma in attempting to protect everyone within close and long distant range of that infected teacher.

Bulletin boards normally dressed with displays of Fall leaves, welcome signs, classroom rules and name tags will be replaced with caution signs, symbols and a list of mostly “DONT’S” strategically placed in the front of the room and in plain view by the drinking fountain – hardly aesthetically pleasing in the eyes of what would typically be an exciting and anticipated return to school for our kids.

Imagine being a kindergarten teacher in a room filled with mostly nonreaders who’ve been moved from one lockdown environment to a new one that’s more restrictive and doesn’t allow them to freely move, explore and engage in typical socialization activities among peers. Is that how we start the educational career of a five year old, most of which walk in an elementary school for the first time with uncertainty and social/separation anxiety already built in? Good luck getting five year olds to understand, let alone follow overbearingly stringent classroom rules. That teacher will be spending too much time wiping tears away from scared students screaming for one or both parents… or family member they rely on for support.

Even in a remote learning environment in the home, children are free to roam the house unmasked without ball ’n chains. Yes, many parents are not prepared for another few months of noncompliance, bribing, and screaming just get a child to sit down for a 20 minute lesson on ordering fractions, smallest to largest. However, imagine the stress of parents and children leaving the safety of home into spaces that aren’t ready to deal with health consequences in the midst of a pandemic.

Consider the safety of the building in which your child attends. Newer schools tend to have better HVAC systems with an option of recycling fresh air into classrooms. Older schools might recycle the same air or have inadequate air flow. And then you have rooms with no AC. Put even a minimal amount of students in an overheated classroom and watch the masks come off just for a breath of fresh air. Petri dish anyone?

By now, I’m sure you’ve labeled me an alarmist? Perhaps. However, the understood oath and commitment among educators intuitively puts us in the role of guardian angel and protector of children and each other. It’s a calling of which we’ve been given the upmost responsibility. 40+ years as an educator working with students in grades K-6, as a teacher, librarian, and counselor give me reasonable credibility to bring these concerns to the forefront.

I’m retired now, but I’ve occasionally done some substitute teaching in the past. I completed a long term substitute job a year ago in a dual immersion program for a teacher on stay home orders because of a complicated pregnancy. There is no situation that would entice me to teach, full time or as a substitute teacher at this moment.

It’s an untenable situation in which the ‘primary educator’ of children, the parents or adult in charge of raising the child, needs to continue take on the responsibility and role of classroom teacher for a bit longer. Getting back to school is solely conditional upon us fully containing this pandemic. Period!

Alexander Navarro authored a study on the societal impact of the Spanish flu back in 1918. He suggests that the epidemic showed up in the middle of the Great War, a time when Americans were, as he put it, “felt a sense of hyper-patriotism”, and that people were willing to do their part for the war effort. Consider this a war on a pandemic that is destroying lives and changing how we live. We are ALL in it together as we battle it… otherwise, it lingers for years. Let’s hope that Governor Brown continues to make the tough, common sense decisions that get us on that path to full recovery. Let’s hope that collectively, we can set aside selfish, ideological and an ‘all about me’ mentality for the sake of the war effort.


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