Can We Talk About the Serious Dangers of Sending Teachers Back to School?


Sending Teachers Back to School Is a Possible Death Sentence... And That’s Unacceptable

The United States continues seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases. There were 50,000 new cases multiple consecutive days last week. Experts predict that number will soon rise to 100,000 new cases a day. Yet most states have issued plans to return to school as soon as next month. Many parents are opting out of sending their kids back to the classroom. Most teachers don’t have that choice. Let’s talk about the dangers of sending our teachers back to school during a pandemic. 

There are so many unanswered questions.

Teachers have urgent questions about the safety of returning to school and what will be done to keep them safe. Questions include:

  • How will social distancing be maintained? 
  • Will there be enough cleaning supplies? 
  • Who will be responsible for constant cleaning and sanitation? 
  • Are masks required for students and staff? 
  • Will masks be provided? 
  • Will health screens be done daily? 
  • What is the procedure if an adult or child is sick at school? 
  • Will teachers be paid if they need to quarantine or are out sick with the virus? 

Yes, school districts are still trying to figure it out, but it isn’t fair to order teachers back to school without a solid plan addressing life and death concerns. 

Sending teachers back to school is a possible death sentence.

Teachers will die. That’s not being dramatic – it’s a fact. Thousands of people are still dying every day from COVID-19. Many teachers have risk factors making them more likely to get seriously ill or die. Stress weakens the immune system. This makes it more likely to contract the virus and increases the risk of serious or deadly symptoms. Teaching is stressful in the best conditions. The stress of teaching in a pandemic puts every teacher at high risk, despite age and health factors. 

Teachers are afraid they’ll contaminate and kill someone they love.

Again, this isn’t an exaggeration. This is a very real and scary possibility. Many teachers are caregivers for grandparents, parents with cancer, spouses with compromised immune systems, children with special medical needs, and even elderly neighbors who have no one else to help them.

“My mom is a cancer patient, my partner has an autoimmune condition, my son has Type 1 diabetes, and my 85-year-old grandfather lives with us. If I get sick or become an asymptomatic carrier, my family will get it, too, and they will likely die. I would never be able to live with the guilt.” 

– concerned teacher

Teachers fret about finances. 

If someone in their class tests positive, will they all have to be quarantined for 14 days? Will they still get paid? What if they get sick and go over the limit of paid time off?

“We get eight paid days a school year to use for sickness or personal reasons. Once those are gone, our pay is docked. Eight days won’t get us through even one quarantine.”

– concerned teacher

Others are worried they’ll be fired if they get sick and need extended time off to recover. Many pregnant teachers are contemplating cutting their maternity leave short since it’s unpaid and they’re afraid they’ll need the sick days they’ve banked if quarantine is required. (And they are, of course, filled with anxiety about contracting coronavirus while pregnant, bringing it home to a newborn baby, or getting quarantined away from their infant.)

Some parents will send kids to school medicated to try to mask a fever because they need to go to work to pay the rent. Some teachers will medicate themselves to hide fevers for the same reason. It’s not a matter of “if” COVID-19 enters schools. It’s a matter of how that’s going to impact teacher pay when it does. Sending teachers back to school puts their health in danger and doesn’t even provide the assurance of financial stability. 

Will teachers lose their jobs if they express concern?

Many young teachers without underlying health issues are worried they’ll face repercussions if they express concern about returning to the classroom.

“My principal told me I’m being paranoid and I need to pull myself together. Other administrators on the Zoom call laughed at me. I felt bullied and I’m worried I’ll be fired if I push it.”

– 26-year-old teacher

Other teachers live in areas where a large percentage of the population isn’t taking the pandemic seriously. They’re very worried about social distancing, masks, and proper sanitation won’t be enforced-  and what it will mean for their jobs if they speak up.

The logistics of sending teachers back to school just doesn’t make sense.

The beginning of school crazies are going to hit a new high with kids coming back from the traumatic school closings still scared about what’s happening. How are teachers going to manage behavior and social distancing? Keeping kids six feet apart and ensuring hand washing, surface sanitation, and proper mask-wearing seems like an impossible job for one person. Teachers will spend all their time monitoring and won’t have a minute left to actually teach. Many classrooms don’t even have sinks and almost none have hot water.

Even if they are somehow able to meet the requirements, it might not be enough. Research shows preventing COVID-19 isn’t just about social distancing and hygiene – it’s also about the length of time exposed. Being in an enclosed space all day ups the risk factor even if everything else is done perfectly. Then there’s the logistics of trying to juggle a rotating schedule of students and possible hybrid models requiring both in-person and remote teaching. It’s all a logistical nightmare.

Teachers fear getting quarantined away from their own children – or worse, orphaning them.

Teachers are worried about dying and leaving their own children alone. Think about that a second. These professionals are being called back to work in dangerous conditions for other people’s children while putting their own at risk of getting sick, dying, or becoming parentless. Why is it acceptable to expect teachers to do that? Yes, everyone is worried about keeping their jobs and being able to support their families. Schools being open makes it easier for parents to continue working. But teachers aren’t babysitters. They didn’t sign up to risk their own lives and the lives of their families so everyone else has childcare.

The mental health of teachers is at jeopardy.

Many teachers were already burned out and dealing with mental health issues before the pandemic. Remote teaching was exhausting and stressful. Bringing teachers back to school will be devastating to the mental health of many.  Now on top of everything else they already do, they’re literally being charged with keeping themselves, their students, and everyone they care about healthy and alive during a pandemic. It’s too much pressure and they didn’t sign up for this responsibility. 

Teachers have long made huge sacrifices for their students. They work on their own time and buy classroom materials with their own money. They put their personal lives, family, sleep, and health on the back burner. Many were burned out physically, emotionally, and mentally before COVID-19. Now, they’re barely hanging on, and are being asked to put their lives on the line to return to the classroom during a pandemic that shows no signs of slowing down. This isn’t acceptable and we need to stand up as a society to make that known.

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Sending Teachers Back to School Is a Possible Death Sentence... And That’s Unacceptable

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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed. is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She’s been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga.
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