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From a teacher’s perspective, opening schools five days a week is dangerous

SHARE From a teacher’s perspective, opening schools five days a week is dangerous
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Third grade teacher Stacie Grover holds a handwritten sign during a rally to show support for opening schools safely at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug. 7, 2020.

Yukai Peng, Deseret News

I am a high school social studies teacher and a father of three, two of whom are current students. I write from both the perspective of a concerned parent and a teacher who will in a matter of days be expected to teach a classroom that will be at about 90% capacity. My mother is also an educator who inspired me to enter the profession; my father is a health care worker who is on the front of the front lines in helping those with this illness. 

My health history is such that I am in the top category of risk for severe symptoms from COVID-19. Despite that, I am certain that I can take measures to make sure that I stay safe this school year. I do not write out of concern for myself, but for the community I serve.

The push for schools to reopen five days a week at full capacity is, to me, a staggering betrayal of the values Utahns claim to hold most dear. I understand the fatigue of dealing with COVID-19 and have felt the effects of the economic strain from it. What I fail to understand is how allowing for a drastic increase in cases and deaths is an acceptable cost to reopening schools. 

In every place of business I have seen, adults are expected to follow mask-wearing policies and social distancing guidelines. We know that children over the age of 10 can spread the virus as easily as adults. We know that these same age groups have not been fully immune, and we have seen children die from this pandemic. Given what we know, why are so many parents and school boards intent on reopening schools? How can we ask people to surrender their lives?

Some who want to fully reopen schools argue it is about the health of the economy. I do not see how prolonging the COVID-19 crisis in this fashion will help the economy. This very spring and summer, we saw what a bare-minimum effort did in failing to stem the tide of infection. If we reopen schools, you will see a spike in infection and death that will compel an economic shutdown. Last I checked, dead corpses do little to contribute to the economy.

I and my fellow teachers have been painted as lazy and selfish. The fact is that we have not stopped working since May.

Some argue it’s about giving students the emotional and mental health support of being with their friends and teachers again. I dearly miss seeing my students, and I know that many of them are suffering; but because of the shutdown in the spring, I know that more of them are living than would have been the case otherwise. I wish we could go back to normal, but I was raised in a culture I thought valued responsibility and self-discipline. How will students be mentally and emotionally healthy as they briefly attend school before another shutdown inevitably occurs? How will students benefit from seeing their friends and family get infected with a disease for which there is no cure or current vaccine? If our concern really was for the students and their health and safety, reopening schools would be the last resort, not our first.

I and my fellow teachers have been painted as lazy and selfish. The fact is that we have not stopped working since May. We are doing everything in our power to make this school year work for students. I have poured hundreds of dollars into getting the right supplies, tools and software to ensure I can provide as meaningful and as engaging a learning experience as possible for our state’s most precious resource.  

Please, Utah, be true to your values. Many of us value the sanctity of life before it is born; why not after? Thomas Jefferson, in writing the Declaration of Independence, did not list the right to liberty as second to the right to life by accident. We cannot be truly free unless we are free to live.

A partial or complete closure of schools is safer, more consistent with our values, and will in the long term revitalize our economy and our students’ mental health more quickly and more permanently than the current “bare minimum” effort being pushed right now. Our children deserve more than the bare minimum. They deserve our best. They deserve to have the same standards of safety we ask for ourselves.

Heaven help us if we proceed on our current course.

Michael Stone and his wife, Rebecca, are the parents of three young boys. He teaches world history, sociology, psychology, AP U.S. history and coaches debate at Herriman High School, where he has taught for five years.