Classes2 (copy)

Kindergarten students follow their teacher on the first day of school in 2018 at Emerald Hill Elementary School.

Anxiety is high for parents, staff, and teachers as decisions are made for returning to school buildings. There are many factors to consider and much that we still don’t know.

The top priority must be the safety and well-being of all involved. We’re seeing the effects of areas in the country that “opened up” too soon. Is it worth risking even one life to be back in the buildings next month?

When the pandemic began, it appeared that only the elderly were severely affected. Over time, the age of those affected has shifted younger. People in the age range of most of our teachers are testing positive and dying.

Some young children have contracted the virus and have died, but fewer than adults. What is to say that that will not change?

Summer camps have closed due to positive cases. If students contract the virus, potentially they could give it to teachers or their family members. How many children are being raised by grandparents who are of the age that is of high risk?

Early on the experts made recommendations based on what they knew at the time. With more evidence, recommendations changed. We’re only a few months into this pandemic and we’ve seen countless changes in guidance.

Experts didn’t deliberately give bad advice; they learned more about the virus. In the past, researchers and experts had time to study and analyze before giving public guidance. COVID-19 spreads rapidly and our means of communication is immediate. Society’s increased mobility allows for faster and greater spread. We’re just beginning to discover the long-term effects that survivors will deal with for the rest of their lives.

It’s gratifying that people are finally realizing that face-to-face instruction is better for the majority of students. It’s true that being in school will benefit many, but “being in school” won’t be a return to “normal.”

How quickly attitudes changed. Folks have gone from praising teachers to accusing them of not wanting to “return” to work. Teachers are concerned for the welfare of their students. They drove through neighborhood, called, emailed and fed students.

Now teachers are being maligned and criticized because they’re concerned for their own safety and the safety of their students. Teachers have died protecting their students. Contrary to what some think, there aren’t hordes of prospective teachers (and bus drivers) waiting to fill the ranks. There’s a nationwide teacher shortage and lack of concern for the welfare of teachers only discourages more from choosing teaching as a profession.

Teachers haven’t been on vacation. They worked virtually through the end of the school year. Some did a better job than others and that’s an issue the administration must address because online instruction will continue in some form. Are corporate employees who work remotely accused of being on vacation?

Many school divisions are proposing a hybrid approach that allow parents choices. How will teachers manage instruction? The local task force met only once to consider the options.

The virus is airborne so it’s an internal “threat.” None of the HVAC systems in our buildings are capable of providing the clean air needed to reduce the spread. If masks aren’t required, the virus spreads more quickly regardless of social distancing.

Teachers and staff are literally on the front lines. Will they be provided with free and frequent testing and PPE? The safety of our teachers and staff is paramount to operating our schools. Threats and accusations won’t achieve a workable solution. Go slow. Lives are at stake. Open buildings when it’s safer for everyone involved.

Elizabeth Hutchins is a

former educator and served 16 years on the Culpeper County School Board.

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