Teachers say they are preparing their wills before heading back to school

July 28, 2020

As the U.S. continues its national argument over when and how to reopen schools, the push for in-person learning and the surging number of COVID-19 cases across the country has many educators fearing the worst. In addition to lesson planning and classroom preparation, a number of teachers are adding a grim and heartbreaking task to their to-do lists: preparing their wills.

How educators are planning for the worst

Dozens of teachers have taken to Twitter to speak out about their fears and the disturbing reality of what a return to school might bring if it isn’t carried out safely and with the health of school workers in mind. One school librarian named Abby Cornelius from Stilwell, Kansas, writes that she was recently advised by her doctor to update her will and purchase life insurance.

Others have tweeted that they’re writing wills because of pre-existing conditions, pregnancies or because they’re just plain afraid of what the threat of COVID-19 may bring.

The situation appears to be so dire that some Florida attorneys are even offering free living wills for teachers, according to NBC News.

How back-to-school planning factors in

A number of school districts, like those in California, are remaining online-only as classes resume. But in states like Texas and South Carolina, in-person instruction is still a part of the plan. Some schools are offering a choice between in-person instruction and virtual learning while others are adopting hybrid models that combine the two. The Florida Education Association, a statewide federation of teacher and education workers' labor unions just announced they’re suing the state over plans to reopen for in-person learning, which they claim violates a provision in the Florida Constitution requiring the state to ensure schools are operated safely.

President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have offered little guidance on how to resume school safely. Earlier this month, DeVos said schools must reopen because “education is an essential function,” and she dismissed concerns about the spread of the virus. Meanwhile, President Trump threatened to withhold funding from schools that don’t reopen fully. DeVos later walked back that threat.

What the science says about returning to the classroom

The American Academy of Pediatrics has urged that “science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools.” Epidemiologists have also warned that to control community spread of the coronavirus, the average daily infection rate among those who are tested should be less than 5%. Only two of the 10 largest school districts in the U.S. meet that criteria, according to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, some have argued that kids are less likely to become infected with the coronavirus and spread the illness to their teachers or other school staff, but kids aren’t immune to COVID-19. 

In Florida, more than 31,000 children have tested positive for COVID-19, and hospitalizations of children with the virus increased 23% from July 16 to July 24. One Texas county has seen 85 infants under age 1 test positive for coronavirus since March, and in Tennessee, more than 7,500 children ages 5-18 have tested positive for the virus.

That said, returning to school while the virus is surging could mean more transmission to teachers, other school employees and the families of all students and staff. A July 24 Gallup poll shows 57% of K-12 teachers are very concerned about the threat of COVID-19 exposure at work, and 18% are moderately concerned. One teacher in Nevada says, in addition to making a will, she is thinking about writing goodbye letters to her family. 

The fact that teachers are even having to consider these distressing options should be a wake-up call for leaders across the country. “No one should be put in this position,” the National Education Association writes on Twitter. “The health and safety of our students, families, and educators must be the driver of plans to reopen school buildings.”

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

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