Thursday, July 16, 2020

A Letter to Governor Polis

Governor Polis,

After hearing your interview on CPR this week, I have some significant concerns. Fortunately, your statements about returning full-time to in-person school this fall provide opportunities to look more closely at this topic.

When you stated, "Well, this is really hard for everybody. It's really hard for people who work in restaurants and retail trying to decide, is it worth risking my health or risking my job? It's hard for real people across society. And of course, that means it's hard for educators. It's hard for teachers. It's a difficult decision to make." You implied that, because we have done a poor job caring for our most needed workers, we should also not care for the people who work in schools.

It's worth noting, though, that the analogy doesn't hold up either. No one working as a server or retail clerk or mechanic spends approximately 5 hours a day with 25 children who will not wear a mask all day. These other jobs do not spend multiple hours with their customers. When people refuse to wear a mask, they can be asked to leave a store or a restaurant. Everyone who knows kids knows that it's challenging to keep kids wearing clothing they need for their own comfort, nevermind hot, uncomfortable, and frankly confusing a mask. Kids aren't going to wear their masks faithfully, and it's an unreasonable ask of children.

Additionally, many 1st graders don't wipe their own noses; most kindergarteners don't know how to tie their shoes. We're asking these teachers to put their faces next to the potentially infected faces of 25 children.

When you went on to said, "I mean, to walk away from a career that you put your life into or at least put it on pause," it became clear that you may not have heard about Colorado's teacher shortage. A survey collected by the Colorado Department of Education showed that "Approximately 81 percent of urban/suburban districts, 60 percent of rural/small rural districts, and 63 percent of BOCES that responded had vacant educator positions unable to be filled at the beginning of the 2017- 2018 school year." Colorado cannot afford to lose any teachers, and it felt like you were inviting them to see themselves out.

Much more concerning is that this statement implies that teachers are the only people affected by the decision for schools to return to full-time, in-person learning. Many people, other than teachers, will be forced to choose between their families and their jobs. Cafeteria employees, office staff, bus drivers, paraeducators, student monitors, library clerks, campus security, custodial crews, maintenance staff, and IT departments will return to schools as well. Do we mean that these workers should also "take a little bit more health risk," as well?

On the note of risks, the statement continues, "...or are you willing to take on a little bit more health risk as we are across society." It's worth noting that teachers already sacrifice a great deal for their profession. We know that more than 90% of teachers report using their own money for resources for their classrooms. The median amount of money spent between 2014 and 2016, according to Marketwatch, was just under 300 dollars. There's no other industry like education in that respect. There's even a joke that most people steal supplies from their offices for their homes; teachers steal from their homes for their work. But, if that's still not enough additional sacrifice, how about the fact that it isn't possible to do everything a teacher is required to do in 40 hours? A survey conducted by Scholastic and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation called Primary Sources: America's Teachers on the Teaching Profession found that teachers work an average of 53 hours a week. It seems like teachers are already sacrificing a great deal, certainly more than is expected from most professions. As we compare teachers to other similar professions, it's worth noting that, "Nationally, teachers earn 19% less than similarly skilled and educated professionals."

Assuming that the time and money teachers spend is not enough additional sacrifice, we can look at the real health consequences. Students at school spread illnesses apart from Covid-19. In 2008, Joseph Brownstein reported that "Teachers had six times more germs in their workspace than accountants." Significantly, teachers are always "taking a little bit more health risk" than the rest of society. I assume that you know, but I'll mention again that a quarter of teachers are in high-risk groups for complications from Covid-19.

But, Mr. Governor, the biggest reason to not have students return to in-person learning is the students. Some people have been sick with Covid-19 since February. Many people who have recovered have reported permanent changes, from the potentially long-lasting loss of smell to post-viral chronic fatigue syndrome. Additionally, we don't know yet what the consequences will be in a year or two or 10. Respiratory viruses can damage lung tissue, but Covid-19 doesn't only affect the lungs. According to the AP, "Heart inflammation, irregular heartbeats, and worsening kidney and liver function have been reported as well," in patients post-Covid-19. It just isn't worth the risk to the lives of the children.

We miss teaching, we miss our kids, we miss our schools, and our communities, and our colleagues. We miss being there for those who need us. We miss it like crazy. But it's just not worth the lives of these children and communities we love to rush back when we can save lives by waiting.


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