K-12 teachers fearful about school reopening - especially if it's in-person instruction
In just six to eight weeks, Michigan’s K - 12 students will be returning to school for the fall semester.
Most districts appear to be planning for at least a limited number of days of in-person teaching.
But cases of COVID-19 are increasing in the state, and teachers are anxious about the risks for them, their students and their own families.
Some teachers say feeling this unsafe could be a deal breaker for going back.
Vicki Green teaches AP English classes at Cass Tech High School in Detroit.
Detroit is the epicenter of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Michigan.
An overwhelming majority of the more than 1,400 Detroiters who’ve died from COVID-19 were Black.
Green says it would be foolish not to be worried about going back to in-person teaching.
"This is hard. Let me say that to you first. This is very difficult," she says. "I love teaching, I’ve been teaching for 22 years."
Green doesn’t want to teach online again. It’s a poor substitute for what happens in a real classroom. Nor does she want to miss another graduation ceremony.
“That was quite sad, at the end of March (when school suddenly shut down). I had no idea that Wednesday that I saw my kids the last time, would be the last time."
Green says she’ll go back – if her union gives the green light. If not, that’s her deal breaker.
“I’m not going to rebel," says Green. "But I am a union person. And if our union’s recommendation is that we protest strike based on the fact that they don’t believe the administration, the people in charge, are making the best decisions – I’m with that too.”
Behind the scenes, some groups involved in giving feedback on return to school plans say the state’s guidelines need strengthening. They want more “required,” actions, like physical distancing of students, instead of just “strongly recommended, or recommended” actions.
But stricter rules may not be enough for some teachers.
While they’re more than aware, from first-hand experience ,that many students suffer emotionally, socially and academically without traditional schooling, they're also worried that they could be asked to risk their lives for that traditional schooling experience.
Jessica Rodriguez teaches second graders at Wines Elementary in Ann Arbor. "It's keeping me up at night," she says.
Rodriguez says she and her husband are spending a lot of time discussing, "what if--" what if she has to quit?
"The Catch 22 is, I’m feeling very much like it’s not safe to return at all, especially with Michigan numbers increasing and numbers skyrocketing in our country. But I keep our benefits. I keep our health insurance. And without my income there’s just no way for us to survive," says Rodriguez.
School districts are so far not talking openly about offering online-only instruction.
What could happen is conjecture at this point. Governor Gretchen Whitmer warned recently the state is moving in the wrong direction with cases. Online school for all could still happen.
“If we’re going to get our kids back in school in eight weeks, we’ve got to stay at least in Phase 4, if not move into Phase 5," Whitmer said during a recent press conference. "And the trajectory we’re on, it’s very much in question.”
This game of wait and see is causing a huge amount of stress for teachers, who usually spend part of their summers preparing curriculum for the fall. But they can’t do that until their district unveils a plan.
Courtney Kiley, a teacher at Community High School in Ann Arbor, says she’s trying to prepare herself for what she dreads the most, trying to teach her students over a Zoom screen, while her own kids are being taught the same way.
“How am I supposed to be the best teacher and mom? I mean, if I had to go back to the feeling that I had, like March through June, feeling like less than mediocre at everything I was trying to do – I don’t want to live another year feeling like that. But maybe I will. We’ll see.”
School districts must submit their return to school plans to the state by August 15. That’s only a little more than a month from now. And if there’s anything the novel coronavirus has taught us – a lot can happen in that period of time – good and bad.