As Governors across the land race forward with plans to reopen schools this month, including using threats of funding cuts to already financially strapped districts if they don’t herd their staff and children back into buildings, teachers are doing their best to raise the alarm. We already have the evidence from Georgia of a YMCA camp that required evidence of a negative test given within 12 days of attending, required all staff to wear masks, and did a health screening when campers arrived, and STILL ended up with a massive outbreak (hundreds of campers and staff testing positive) within just 4 days.
And now we have two school districts, one in Mississippi and one in Indiana, that started school this past week. Both districts have already had a reported positive test for a student and had to take steps to alert parents and have students in close contact with the infected students go into quarantine.
In Arizona, one Superintendent, facing a threatened 5% funding cut by the governor if the school doesn’t reopen in-person, is desperately trying to juggle a million different things to get it to happen as safely as possible even as he has staff members already out across the district with positive tests and has already lost one teacher who died of COVID — while schools were closed.
I called 10 people on staff and told them they’d had a possible exposure. I arranged separate cars and got us all to the testing site. Some of my staff members were crying. They’ve seen what can happen, and they’re coming to me with questions I can’t always answer. “Does my whole family need to get tested?” “How long do I have to quarantine?” “What if this virus hits me like it did Mrs. Byrd?”
We are not soldiers. We did not sign up thinking we’d be asked to give our lives, not to protect our students, but to prop up the economy so parents can go back to work. Ask an educator and I doubt you’ll find any that wouldn’t, when the chips were down, put themselves between an active shooter and their students and take a bullet to protect them, or cover them with their bodies to protect them during a tornado or earthquake as the building comes down all around them. But asking us to do it knowing that doing so puts our students at greater physical risk to do so, and with the motivation of money and to bolster employment numbers so Trump and governors can brag about “the recovery?” Not so much.
But many of the “get kids back to school now!” folks are using argument other than the economy, stock market, and unemployment. “What about kid’s mental health?” “What about meals, when a lot of kids’ families face food uncertainty issues?” While I understand those arguments, one glaring counterargument is that killing a student, or their teachers, is a mighty odd way to address their mental health or food insecurity issues.
But that brings me after a lengthy lead-up to the point of this diary. One counselor in Iowa has posted this on Facebook, hammering home the hypocrisy of suddenly worrying about children’s health and well-being, physical and mental, while the GOP has been slashing programs to address exactly those things for years.
I am going to post the entire post here (on the justification that the author has made the post public and shareable on Facebook, where it has been shared so far more than 1,000 times, presuming that this gives me implied permission to share it here), but with full credit to Barbara Hogan. The original post can be found HERE:
I didn’t want to do this but some of y’all need to hear it.
Stop invalidating teachers feelings about their safety. Stop using child abuse, food insecurity, and mental health to do it. That is some serious misdirection.
I work for the largest district in Iowa. A majority-minority district. I have a degree in social work, a Masters in counseling, and work in an elementary school. Let me tell you about what I do when I’m at work:
I sit and listen to kids tell me about this abuse you’re talking about. Physical abuse. Sexual abuse. Mental abuse. I have heard it all, and way more times than you want to know. Some kids are telling me for the first time. The first time they’ve told anyone. Other times are “Mrs. Hogan it’s happening again.” I make multiple mandatory reports a month to a DHS that is underfunded and whose social workers have overwhelming caseloads. Before we left in March I was doing suicide assessments nearly weekly. I have taken food and clothes from my house to bring it to students. I have to be the one that calls a Mom to tell her that her child has slits all over her wrists.
And I still won’t let you use this as a reason to force teachers and students back when it’s unsafe. THIS IS NOT ON TEACHERS.
The same politicians (hey, Reynolds) that want to hurriedly reopen schools under dangerous conditions are the same ones who always want to cut down and mismanage social services, mental health services, and their funding. They’re the same politicians who have FAILED the kids in my office. Do you want us to be a community school? Cause we are already trying and it sure would be a lot easier if we had the funding to do it.
Where’s all this talk when it’s not a pandemic? You guys know what often happens to these kids and families then? I sit with a mom after school and call every single homeless shelter in the area to find something for her and there is nothing. I listen to a mom cry after the mental health unit tells her there’s no bed for her child in crisis. And when she asks them and me what to do now, there’s no answer for her. Iowa is one of the worst states for mental health services in the country.
Do not come at teachers and schools. Their job is to educate. Mine is to help these kids and families and I’ll do home visits if I can, I will do my best to connect them with the resources they need and I know my colleagues will too.
The real problem is there are not adequate resources, even if we are in school. Not even close. COME AT YOUR GOVERNMENT FOR THAT. And do it when the pandemic is over too.
Rock on, Barbara. It’s unfair to lay this burden on teachers and then criticize them when they balk at the risks during a pandemic, when we weren’t willing to shoulder this burden ourselves during normal times.