With summer flying by and fall just around the corner, back-to-school anxiety has made its way into the minds of millions of Americans. Yet this year, due to the ongoing new coronavirus pandemic, that anxiety has taken a different shape.
Teachers, school administration, parents and students are all concerned not only about which classes will be available or what the fall musical will be, but more so whether or not public schools can remain a virus-free safe space for a hopeful return in September.
As a student myself and an aspiring teacher, this concern is ever-present in my mind. Despite push from the federal government, all the way down to angry parents on Facebook, reopening schools in September offers more risks than reward.
No teacher dreams of teaching lessons over Zoom or Google Meet. When I envision myself in my future classroom teaching, I see myself directly in front of my students. I have also never envisioned teaching with my life and my students’ lives at risk.
Reopening schools in September is more than a temperature check at the door and a Lysol wipe for your desk. It is understanding that by placing yourself in that situation both as the student and teacher, you are exposing yourself to a virus that is still without a vaccine.
School districts have to deal with this reality in their planning for September, but most of these administrative teams are planning meetings over Zoom. The very people in charge of deciding whether teachers and students go back are not even meeting in person to make these decisions. If a 90-minute meeting is too risky, how can a full day of school be safe?
The safety and well-being of students and teachers is most secured with online and remote instruction, but there are serious concerns on the opposing side. Many parents and guardians rely on school to watch over their children while they work and provide for their family. Furthermore, for many parents, the expense of childcare needed to provide a space for their child to participate in online learning is just not feasible.
In their attempt to devise a plan for returning to school, many districts are avoiding solutions that could potentially make life easier but may trigger some angry emails from parents. If districts cut athletics for the fall and used the money they save to adequately train their teachers in remote instruction, the school year may feel like less of a loss. Lower socioeconomic districts could use that money to provide their students with reliable access to online learning and one-to-one learning via laptops and other electronic devices.
A return to in-person instruction simply cannot be the safest way to provide education and employment to both teachers and students. If a multibillion dollar organization like Major League Baseball cannot prevent players from contracting the virus with multiple tests per day and the best medical attention money can pay for, how can so many underfunded school districts prevent their staff and students from getting sick?
The solution is controversial, but when looked at in terms of saving lives versus blindly sacrificing them, continuing with remote instruction is the better option. No teacher should have to show up to work already underpaid wondering if they will leave having contracted a life-threatening virus just as no student should have to leave school wondering if they will be carrying the virus back to their loved ones at home.
There will be many more first days of school and back-to-school shopping trips in the future. We just need to be okay with this year’s first day looking like a trip from the couch to the kitchen table and not on a yellow school bus to a classroom.