Teacher’s fiery takedown about reopening schools is something we all need to hear

July 8, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has many people debating whether it’s safe for children to return to school, but there’s one important question no one seems to be asking: Will going back to school be safe for teachers? The safety of professional educators and other school staffers has been left out of many conversations about school plans for the upcoming academic year, and Christine Esposito, a middle school teacher in Charlottesville, Virginia, has had enough. She writes a viral Facebook post explaining exactly how she feels about teaching in-person during a pandemic, and her brutally honest take is one every parent and school official needs to read.

“I get it. I do. You need schools to open because holy crap, you’re not getting anything done, your kids need to see other kids, you have a job to do, and you just plain need a break,” Esposito writes. She knows parents are worried, and she’s seen the arguments that kids aren’t as heavily impacted by COVID-19 as adults are. But pandemics don’t end just because we want them to, and kids aren’t the only ones at risk.

“Are you going to send your kids into a building with no adults? No. So when you’re out there demanding that schools open and all of your arguments are about you, about what you need, about what your kids need, but NEVER ONCE mention the dangers to the staff and faculty who will necessarily need to be in those schools, you can see where I’m a little concerned,” she explains.

I get it. I do. You need schools to open because...holy crap you’re not getting anything done, your kids need to see...

Posted by Christine Esposito on Saturday, July 4, 2020

As Esposito points out in her post, teachers already make so many sacrifices. They’re expected to spend their own money buying supplies for their classrooms, and they work every day with the threat of gun violence. “Now you’re asking us to accept going back into classrooms in the middle of a pandemic,” she adds. “Classrooms that are located in buildings that have been neglected for decades (please see: adequate funding), that in some cases have no windows that open, where our support people — occupational therapists, speech therapists — are working in closets (please see: adequate funding), and buildings that have sketchy HVAC on a good day. You’ll forgive us if we’re not quite on board with this idea yet.”

Leaders like President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have made calls over the past week for schools to fully reopen. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also offered guidance on reopening, which includes the use of face masks, social distancing in the classroom and staggered schedules to create smaller class sizes. The CDC says virtual learning presents the lowest risk of COVID-19 spread; however, during a round table discussion at the White House on Tuesday, July 7, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said the CDC encourages all schools to open fully with protective measures in place.

“It’s clear that the greater risk to our society is to have these schools close,” Redfield said. “Nothing would cause me greater sadness than to see any school district or school use our guidance as a reason not to reopen.”

A study published in June in the journal Nature shows that people under age 20 may be half as likely to become infected with COVID-19 as adults over 20, and clinical symptoms of the virus manifest in only about 21% of 10- to 19-year-olds who become infected. But even if the risk of infection is lower in children, kids who are infected but not showing symptoms could still spread the virus to teachers and other faculty at school. Asymptomatic children could also carry the virus home to vulnerable family members.

Since many schools have been closed since March, there’s no way to know exactly what will happen if schools fully reopen. Day cares that have already reopened could provide some clues to the potential impacts of COVID-19 in school environments. Some day cares have remained open to children of essential workers throughout the pandemic, with limited class sizes and strict safety measures in place, and the number of infections appear to have remained relatively low, according to NPR.

In some states where day cares are open to more children and safety guidelines are not mandatory, cases appear to be on the rise. Clusters of COVID-19 cases in child care and school settings are being monitored at seven child care centers throughout North Carolina. In Texas, over 1,300 people have been infected with COVID-19 at day care alone, according to CNN. The cases include 894 staff members and 441 children at 12,220 open child care centers across the state. 

The number of cases linked to Texas day cares are up significantly from only a month ago, when the state reported 210 positive COVID-19 cases among day care students and staff. Texas child care attendance was limited to children of essential workers until May 31. After that date, day care centers were allowed to open fully to all children. The state offered health protocols, such as the use of face masks and increased disinfection efforts, but those protocols were not mandatory. On June 25, Governor Greg Abbott issued new emergency health guidelines for child care centers to attempt to address the outbreaks.

Given the many unknowns in this situation, and the growing COVID-19 outbreaks all over the country, Esposito says she’s worried for herself, her family and her colleagues. “I have parents who are considered elderly,” she writes. “I’m worried for teachers who are parents … I’m worried for the teachers who are older … But I’m more worried about our custodial staff, bus drivers, our cafeteria workers, our instructional assistants who are far more likely to be BIPOC, people who are far less likely to have the resources needed to survive an extended illness, whose family members are more likely to be considered an essential worker in some other field.” 

Esposito isn’t the only educator voicing these concerns. As of the publish date of this posting, her post has been shared over 38,000 times, and dozens of people have left comments sharing their own fears. “As a librarian, I come in contact with every single student in our building,” one person writes. “I'm not going to rely on prayer to keep me safe.”

Another educator adds, “I have the perspective of being a mother and a teacher, and I’m a mess of emotions. I know the kids need to go back, and I feel like I need to ‘do my job’ (not that I didn’t try my best this spring). I’m not typically a hypochondriac, but if you’re asking me to choose between my job and seeing my mother at Christmas, you’ve presented with me with a really sucky situation.”

For parents and teachers alike, it seems like no option is truly a good option, but Esposito begs parents and school officials to look at the bigger picture and understand that we are living in a time of crisis. “Even if kids are in school full time, nothing about this is going to be normal,” she writes. “We’re going to be facing kids who are dealing with layer upon layer of trauma. We need to make time and space for that, so stop telling me kids are behind. They’re not any further behind than anyone else. They’re behind some arbitrary lines we drew in the sand so long ago we’re not sure we remember why we drew them. We need to meet our kids where they are.”

Most importantly, she adds, if people really want kids back in school full time, they need to take COVID-19 seriously. “The worst part about this is the completely cavalier attitude I see from far too many about doing what needs to be done if you have even half a prayer of opening schools this fall,” she writes. “Wear a mask. Stay home. … If you can’t do any of those things, but want me to go back to school in August with a smile on my face, you’re asking me to make far bigger sacrifices than the ones you’ve been willing to make so far.”

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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