This fall marks my 24th year of teaching middle school. I love teaching. I love everything about teaching. Teaching is where I get my life-sparking energy. I am always on the lookout for new ideas, taking classes to improve my teaching and researching what is best for kids.  I love setting up my classroom so it is an inviting and safe place for all my students. 

Right about now, I am usually itching to get back to do all this, but not this year. I am terrified to go back to school. I am terrified I could lose a student or a coworker to this disease. I am terrified that I could get this disease and infect my family. This virus has extinguished the source of my life-sparking energy.

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Not only am I a teacher, but a mom. I have three children, two of which are still in the public school system. Between the three of us, we will encounter hundreds of different households in a day. Currently, we are told to limit interaction with people outside of our household. How does opening school to full capacity keep us safe when it goes against the county mandates? Students and teachers are putting their lives at risk to reopen schools. Education should not include a life-or-death risk assumption. Education is about enriching life, not jeopardizing it. 

Reopening schools to full capacity with limited social distancing is jeopardizing students and teachers. I have yet to see a school board meeting meet in person with patrons. If it is not safe for school board attendees, again, I ask, how is it safe for students? Restaurants are not at full capacity for in-dining eating because it is not safe for staff or patrons. Even zoos are not at full capacity and require reservations to attend because it is not safe for staff or patrons. Zoos are outside, with fresh air. Many schools lack the ventilation needed to keep the air clean. Many more classrooms lack windows or the space to keep children safe. 

Teachers are mandatory reporters of abuse and neglect. We are required to report any time a child is in danger. This is my reporting our children are in danger.

We are required to report any time a child is in danger. This is my reporting our children are in danger.

What happens if someone becomes infected in a classroom? Will the entire class have to be quarantined for two weeks? Many students have siblings in multiple schools; will their siblings’ classes have to be quarantined as well? What if the teacher becomes infected? Who will sub for the teacher? We already have a sub shortage. If the teacher becomes ill, will they still be expected to work from home or the hospital?

I urge you to rethink the reopening of schools at full capacity. We did online, we can do it again. It is not the best circumstance, but we live in a technological age where we can still deliver good instruction. Who knows, maybe the child’s life we will be saving will be the one to discover the cure to this hideous disease.

Jannifer Young teaches eighth grade ELA and creative writing at Elk Ridge Middle School in South Jordan, Utah.