Protesters gather near the Legislative Building to protest Gov. Roy Cooper's coronavirus safety measures. A NC educator says schools should resist pressure from some right-leaning protesters and politicians to return to classrooms before it's safe. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) Coronavirus in North Carolina
Protesters gather near the Legislative Building to protest Gov. Roy Cooper's coronavirus safety measures. A NC educator says schools should resist pressure from some right-leaning protesters and politicians to return to classrooms before it's safe. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

A North Carolina teacher on why educators should resist pressure from lawmakers and politicians to return to a classroom before it’s safe.

If others jumped off a cliff, would you? 

This childhood lesson that scolds peer-pressured recklessness is lost on many adults pushing to reopen schoolhouse doors.  Because some districts have ignored high rates of community transmission and sent staff and students back into under-resourced buildings, some folks think it’s wise to follow that so-called “lead.”

It’s a lesson educators across the state are reminding communities to consider.  As more state and local leaders perceive themselves as dipping a toe by reopening school buildings, many educators who best understand conditions in their schools perceive this as being pushed head-first off the cliff.

Educators are rightly asking questions before jumping back into school buildings to protect their students, colleagues, and communities.  Schools are not the same as grocery stores or restaurants, and are far less resourced than hospitals.  Even for well-visits, medical offices are having folks wait in parking lots instead of waiting rooms.  

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For all the varying guidance, recommendations and metrics since this began, the questions and concerns educators have before jumping back into buildings have been consistent since March.

And the news about coronavirus in North Carolina is concerning. State officials are reporting a rise in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, feeding concerns that a second wave of the dangerous virus is here.

How deep is the water below?  

As a novel virus we’re still learning about its effects.  Because it’s new, we don’t know what we don’t know.  To gamble with children and educators while crossing fingers that many won’t get sick or share with the community is not a die all districts are casting, nor should they. For all the push for “innovation” in education, resorting to rudimentary reopening instead of buying more time for science to catch up to nature is duplicitous. 

How strong is the current? 

Reopening school buildings at the start of the flu season and on the eve of the holiday season concerns many educators.  Pandemic fatigue appears to be a driving force behind a resurgence of school reopening conversations and combined with isolation may cause more folks to throw caution to the wind in pursuit of a sense of normalcy as they gather for the holidays.  

Every year we experience the post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas germ party that danced around our classrooms even before the pandemic, so the addition of a novel airborne virus to that equation is a highly concerning recipe.

What’s the water temperature? 

As the temperature drops, windows in homes and classrooms close up (if they could open in the first place), reducing ventilation.  Aside from needing additional school buildings for our growing population and to replace old buildings, poor HVAC systems have been a major infrastructure need even before the pandemic.  

For the thousands of classes statewide taking place in trailers, there is heat and air conditioning, but in my experience teaching in a trailer there was no ventilation unless the system was blowing hot or cold air.  

Whether teaching in a trailer or brick-and-mortar classroom, teachers worry that systems that fail to properly handle mold can adequately protect us from an airborne virus.

Is that an undertow? 

The desire to reopen schools despite concerning metrics and resistance by too many to take the virus seriously heightens educators’ skepticism that all cases are reported.  President Trump himself has recommended slowing down testing to avoid documenting so many cases.  

It’s ironic that those who are most against masks to prevent the spread of the virus are supportive of masking data documenting the spread.  Masking illness instead of faces, and under-reporting cases to hide prevalence of the virus in an attempt to keep school buildings open intensify many educators’ lack of trust.

What’s below the surface? 

Those wanting educators to take a leap of faith should consider why so many educators lack faith in reopening decisions and paper plans.  Advocating for virtual instruction until community spread is controlled with testing and tracing is not nearly as tall an order as mandating impractical returns to in-person instruction that risk contributing to the same uncontrolled community spread at the heart of the matter.

Young people are watching how adults handle this moment. Will they see in us a good model?