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School Reopenings: Let’s Risk it All or Not At All

The speculation from politicians, colleagues, parents, and relatives about schools reopening is exhausting. No one with authority seems to have a plan and no procedures are standardized. I am sick of politicians like Florida’s governor, Rick DeSantis, comparing going to Walmart and Home Depot for twenty minutes once a month to educating hundreds of children in a school building for seven hours a day. As my teenage daughter might say:  “I am over it.”
Stop the insanity. We either return to school or invest in training teachers to deliver effective online instruction. Full stop. Yes, what I am proposing is a complete return to school with all services or no return. There is no half-way. There is no tenable middle ground. 
Children need school. They need math, science, social studies, English, world languages, health, business, college-credit courses, choir, band, art, physical education, marching band, athletics, and activities. Students need socialization and school-sponsored events. Students deserve the complete package. If we are going to risk sickness and death returning to school buildings, let’s not deprive students of the things that make the educational experience well-rounded.  
I can teach high school social studies online, but I cannot instruct effectively with a mask on, without students working collaboratively, with everyone six feet apart. Schools will need tissues, hand sanitizer, and air purifiers. New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, recently proclaimed that malls could open if they had the proper air filtration. The school building I teach in does not have this adequate air filtration. Schools are not sterile environments. Schools are not conducive to social distancing. Even if everyone follows all of the rules (which full compliance is not likely), the outcome will be a school experience that is flat and sad.  
During my twenty-five tenure, administrators have sent a message that students’ needs come first, except when they don’t. Opening schools in a hybrid model or a mask-to-mask model, as Steven Singer writes, is not the solution. Reopening school buildings are not in the students’ best interest and will only be a temporary band-aid until schools shut down again out of necessity to halt the virus’s spread. If schools across the nation reopen, it will lead to the most disruptive school year–it will be a lost year.
Don’t get me wrong; I want to teach in my classroom. I want my daughters to swim on their school’s teams. I want to return to effective teacher-to-student instruction, but we cannot. Click To Tweet
There is no normal.  
We must create pandemic schools.  
The “safest” route is online learning. Robust online instruction is necessary. Instead of spending weeks debating whether schools should reopen, or having people beat their heads against the wall making futile plans, teachers need training on making online learning successful. In 22 Reasons Why Schools Should Not Reopen This Fall, Nancy Bailey writes, “While I’m not for technology to replace teachers, teachers teaching remotely is different. Funding at this time should go towards ensuring that all students have efficient online access to their teachers and schools in the fall. Students are not going to become zombies if they miss school for a little longer. The economy is not going to fail if children miss some school.”
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Until we can return to school fully, we must continue remote learning. It breaks my heart, but it is the only way forward. Let’s not risk our health for minimal reward. Teachers know this truth, but we have spent our careers “making things work.” Oh, we have a shortage of substitutes today, “Sure, I will cover my colleague’s class.” Oh, the budget does not include tissues and other supplies? “I guess I will buy these products.” Some possible lunatics might shoot-up the building? “Okay, I will huddle in the corner twice a year with my students to rehearse our deaths.”
Collectively, teachers must use the power of our 3.2 million voices to actually put our students’ needs first.  We either go all in or remain remote.  Either way, we need a plan now.  

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