The real reason why the current administration isn’t doing anything to provide a federal plan to reopen schools and the funding to support that mandate is clear: they don’t want to pay for it. At a time when the Trump administration seeks to radically shrink government services, they do not intend to pay to make schools safe. Republicans and Democrats both agree that schools need billions of dollars to reopen, but Congress has been stonewalled by the GOP, an impassable roadblock that has left educators in a state of panic.
The chaos caused by the failure of national leadership has left many educators and health officials with the awful feeling that the sky is falling. There is a collective scrambling of teachers and administrators who are being bullied into reopening schools even though they are not ready, with no financial support from the federal government. Around the country, at least forty-eight local health leaders have quit or been fired during the pandemic. Many more heads will soon roll.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did ultimately release guidelines for reopening in the midst of the pandemic. The guidelines specified wearing face coverings, maintaining social distance, using large-size rooms and outdoor areas to teach, but the guidelines were lambasted by Trump. He criticized them as “very tough” and “expensive,” and ordered the CDC to lighten requirements, still demanding that “schools must be open in the Fall,” calling virtual learning “Terrible.” Vice President Mike Pence concurred, "The president said today we just don't want the guidance to be too tough,” and announced that the CDC would modify their guidelines.
Now that Rachel’s school is reopening, her public school district has asked the teachers to set up a Hybrid Model, which means half of the teaching is online and the other half in person in the classroom. Nationwide, many schools have opted for the Hybrid Model, but it has been strongly criticized because it is not a viable solution, neither here nor there, so to speak—a stop-gap model that places the burden squarely on the shoulders of the teachers to figure out a solution.
The guide for the Hybrid Model only offers suggestions but no concrete action plan. There is talk that teachers will be tested, but no one is saying who will do it and how it will be done. No one is talking about testing the kids. Teachers will have half the kids, half of the time, and the other half of the time, those kids will be taught virtually, which makes twice as much work for the teachers. And none of this makes anything safer for the teachers because they end up being exposed to all of the students.
There are no social distance requirements but there are requirements for face coverings. There are no guidelines to schedule specials classes, PE classes, pullout classes or times to go to library, or computer lab. There is no plan to avoid large- group gatherings or how to get kids in and out of school, especially when parents are dropping off their kids. There is no plan as to who is going to sanitize the spaces in between classes. How is the Hybrid Model safe for educators? And when you’re dealing with six-year-olds, how do you stop them from hugging one another? How do you make them keep on their face masks all day? There are too many unanswered questions.
Plenty is dumped on teachers nowadays.
Rachel does not want the responsibility for taking temperatures, installing Plexiglas shields in the classroom, and paying out of her own meager pocket for gallons of hand sanitizer. The prospect of trying to maintain six feet of social distancing among six-year-olds sounds good to some people but try enforcing it.
Rachel is between a rock and a hard place. She knows she is facing the toughest decision of her teaching career, one she has little control over. She could ask to teach virtually and the district would have to find her a position. The district would place her on the must-hire list, but then she would have to take whatever job is offered. But if she did do that, she’d lose the position she has had for twenty years teaching first-graders and might not ever get it back. “That does not feel like a choice to me,” Rachel says. “I have a job that resonates with me and meets my needs. I’ve spent twenty years being part of the community. If I say I want to teach virtually, all of that is gone.”
“I have a job that resonates with me and meets my needs. I’ve spent twenty years being part of the community. If I say I want to teach virtually, all of that is gone.”