Politics and schools: one teacher’s Covid tale

Facemask illustration [detail] by Marek Studzinski.
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I teach in a rural Colorado school (no union!). At the end of summer 2020, as schools nationwide were weighing the benefits against risks for in-person schooling, our district, without hesitation, dove headlong into it.

Staff, parents, and students were assured that precautions would be taken to the greatest extent possible to protect everyone: mandatory masking by adults, cohorts (small classrooms) strictly maintained, quarantine of entire classrooms should anyone test positive, and school closures should staff become stretched too thin due to illnesses.

As the year wore on and local Covid cases soared, however, it felt as though staying open was more about political one-upmanship than protecting staff and students. Some student cases were swept under the rug; others were explained away as somehow not posing a threat. In November, during a week where our staff was cut down by a third from illness and we still remained in school, we wondered to each other what exactly constitutes “stretched too thin”?

I realize there are no great choices for anyone during these times. Most teachers would agree that the best place for students is in the classroom, particularly if parents have to work. And many students rely on school for meals. But who is really looking out for educators without a union? Without a pool of substitutes? What about the safety of our students, and their family members?

Next time, districts and communities should better prepare our schools so that teachers, staff, and students are not pawns in a dangerous game.

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