Weingarten backed her assertion with hard data published last month in a report from the Kaiser Institute. One in four teachers has a condition that puts them at higher risk of serious illness from coronavirus.
Rachel is aware of the risk she faces. She knows about the recent case in Arizona that alarmed public school teachers across the country. About 100 miles southeast of Phoenix, the Hayden Winkelman Unified School district in Gila County is in the middle-of-rural Arizona. Three teachers wore masks, strictly adhered to social distancing, hand-washing and jugs of hand sanitizer. All three caught COVID-19; one died.
The Arizona school superintendent Jeff Gregorich mourned the loss of Mrs. Kim Byrd who he describes as a master teacher. “She’d been here since 1982,” he says, “and she was always coming up with creative ideas. They delivered care packages to the elementary students so they could sprout beans for something hands-on [to do] at home, and then the teachers all took turns in front of the camera.”
Superintendent Jeff Gregorich says, “Mrs. Kim Byrd did everything right. She followed all the protocols. If there’s such a thing as a safe, controlled environment inside a classroom during a pandemic, that was it.” The three teachers shared a room so they could teach a virtual summer school program. They routinely checked their temperatures, taught on their own devices and didn’t share anything. Similar to Rachel’s school in New Mexico, the Arizona school is in a high-needs district, ninety per cent Hispanic and more than ninety per cent free and reduced lunch programs. Like Mrs. Kim Byrd, Rachel Baucom is also over sixty. Rachel acknowledges that ten per cent of the people in her age group who catch COVID-19 die, and that number does not take into account any preexisting conditions.
Teachers don’t make much money as it is and many schools are operating with skeleton staffs and tight budgets. Schools are being forced to buy new programs for virtual instruction, making sure all of the kids have tablets at home, and have someone showing them how to use them. Then there are all of the materials needed to ensure safety, from Plexiglas barriers to gallon jugs of hand sanitizer, larger classroom space, and the installation of air ducts and HVAC to provide adequate ventilation. With all of the changes needed to make safer environments for teachers, children and their families, the money isn’t forthcoming from the federal government. The financial burden has been placed squarely on state and local governments that are already strapped for cash.