Blame COVID-19 and Donald Trump, Not Teachers, for No Physical School
Teachers may in fact be saving the day by forcing states to deal with the pandemic
Because I’m a teacher, I’m very sensitive to simplistic criticism of our profession, such as all the undeserved benefits and perks we supposedly demand and get, and the low educational outcomes we produce.
Sure, we may be part of the problem of low educational outcomes, but we are most definitely not the problem. Like with any complex issue that’s long beset our society, the sources of the problem are diverse and date back many decades.
Teachers are a ready target for our outrage, and blaming them makes people feel like the problem is easy to solve: fire bad teachers, make teachers work harder, prepare teachers better.
This negative attitude toward teachers is certainly not new, yet it has taken a new form in the discussions on school reopenings. I have to admit, though, that I still didn’t expect teachers would be burdened by such blame and outrage for resisting a return to in-person learning in various parts of the country.
Just as doctors and nurses are not responsible for the scores of COVID deaths in the US, teachers are not to blame for the fact that students have missed so much physical school, and that millions may continue to do so, perhaps for months.
The two principal culprits when it comes to many regions’ inability to safely reopen schools are COVID-19 and Donald Trump.
There is wide consensus regarding when schools should reopen. As the CDC states: “From other countries, we know that schools can reopen safely for in-person learning in communities with low rates of COVID-19 spread if appropriate precautions are taken.” (FAQ for School Administrators on Reopening Schools, CDC website)
Factor 1: Community spread
Teachers have zero control over the rate of COVID-19 spread. They played no role in the uncontrolled spread we’ve experienced in the US. The virus spreads as it’s genetically programmed to do: from close person-to-person contact through tiny droplets produced by an infected person. As far as respiratory viruses go, it’s considered to spread easily.
From the moment the first case was identified in the US up to the present, all any individual can do to limit the virus’s spread has been: to maintain physical distance, wash hands, wear a face mask, and refrain from touching their faces.
At the regional and national level, community transmission levels have also depended on policies like lockdowns, remote work and school, mask wearing mandates, reopening plans, and dissemination of accurate information about the virus.
The President of the United States has done a dismal job in various respects when it comes to the pandemic. The worst mistake has been to disseminate inaccurate information for political gain.
The pandemic is a national calamity that requires leadership from the highest level of government. Donald Trump holds the highest office in the land and his decision to defy the scientific consensus has cost us dearly in terms of human life and economic wellbeing.
His decision to mislead instead of lead has contributed immensely to the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in the US. Leaders, just like teachers, are supposed to be role models. Instead of encouraging mask wearing and wearing one himself, Trump waited until mid-July to acknowledge that masks are helpful. Instead of promoting physical distance, he held a rally where no distancing or masks were required. He has stubbornly promoted unsafe and useless treatments, from bleach to hydroxychloroquine, going as far as saying, “When I recommend something, they like to say ‘don’t use it’.” (Coronavirus: Hydroxychloroquine ineffective says Fauci, BBC News, 7/29/2020)
The leader sets the tone, and the tone of the President of the United States has set is: Don’t listen to the experts. The virus is largely under control; it’s fine not to wear masks or to physically distance.
About schools, his message is: Schools must reopen no matter what. It doesn’t matter how widespread the virus is in the community. I want schools to reopen.
This last statement, wanting schools to reopen, is the most misleading and insulting of all. We all want schools to reopen. We don’t need any studies to confirm that students learn best in school. We all know the social, nutritional and psychological functions school play. We all want schools to reopen.
Mr. President, if you really want schools to reopen and stay open, do what’s right to control the spread of the pandemic.
Leaders, just like teachers, are supposed to be role models.
Factor 2: Appropriate precautions
An acceptably low level of community spread is not enough to reopen schools, appropriate precautions must be in place too. The CDC recommends:
“Keeping a distance of at least 6 feet from other people, in addition to practicing other behaviors that reduce the spread of COVID-19 like wearing cloth face coverings, washing hands often with soap and water, and staying home when sick. Additionally, it is important to ensure ventilation systems operate properly to increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible…When maintaining 6 feet of distance is not feasible, try keeping as close to 6 feet apart as possible.” (FAQ for School Administrators on Reopening Schools, CDC website)
Taking such precautions is within our control. For this reason, we must do all we can to take them! It would be outrageously irresponsible not to.
Thus, if the President and the Secretary of Education want schools to reopen so badly, having precautions in place is the second variable they should focus on. First, they should endlessly emphasize the importance of such precautions. Second, they should facilitate funding, if needed, to make them possible. How to reopen schools safely is the conversation we should be hearing, not the vacuous statements about how important it is for kids to be in school or how much the President or anybody else wants them back in school.
Teachers know how detrimental it is for kids to miss school. Teachers want schools to reopen too.
I happen to teach in a district with very low community spread (1% test positivity rate state wide), and I’m going back to in-person school in two weeks. My district has a solid reopening plan. I wish every school district was in the same situation.
I’m no hero because I’m going back to in-person teaching. The teachers who are fighting physical school because it’s reckless to reopen at this time are the brave ones. They’re doing the right thing for everyone. Their courage might just force leaders into finally doing what’s necessary to reverse the spread of the virus and bring it down to a level that will make it possible for schools to reopen and stay open.