Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Until Teachers Feel Safe, Widespread In-Person K-12 Schooling May Prove Impossible in U.S.

Health + Wellness
Middle school teacher Brittany Myers stands in protest in front of the Hillsborough County Schools District Office on July 16 in Tampa, Florida. Octavio Jones / Getty Images

By Michael Addonizio

Safely resuming in-person instruction at U.S. public schools is important for the academic, physical, emotional and social well-being of children and their families. It's also a key factor for the nation's economic recovery.


But in mid-July, despite considerable pressure from the Trump administration, many school systems around the nation had announced that they didn't yet believe that anything close to resembling a traditional schedule would be feasible before the 2020-21 school year starts. Many school districts, including those in Los Angeles, San Diego and Houston, three of the nation's largest, were planning to be fully online.

Others, such as those serving New York City and Clinton, Mississippi, currently plan to follow hybrid approaches that combine distance learning and in-person learning. The goal in those cases is to reduce the spread of coronavirus by keeping students several feet apart from each other at all times and the only way to do that is to have fewer children in school at any given time.

Some states, including Florida, are trying to demand that local school systems at least offer families a chance for in-person daily instruction. But it's unlikely that all schools schools in those states will have on-site instruction, especially in COVID-19 hotspots.

Pressure from teachers has contributed to decisions to refrain from holding classes in person everywhere from Southern California to Northern Virginia. Based on my research regarding educational leadership and school policies, I believe that those moves reflect how teachers are insisting that schools only be reopened once staff and student safety can be more assured.

Concerns Expressed

In June, a survey of the members of the American Federation of Teachers, a union with 1.6 million members, found that only 21% of K-12 teachers preferred to resume school on a traditional schedule. Another 42% supported a hybrid approach combining in-person and distance learning and 29% wanted to continue with distance learning exclusively and the rest didn't express a preference.

Fully 62% of the teachers responding to the survey expressed concerns over school safety tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One reason for this trepidation is demographic. More than 1 in 4 of the nation's 3.7 million public school teachers are 50 years old or older. That means they have a high risk of getting severe symptoms if they contract COVID-19.

Countless other teachers live with someone who is in a high-risk category due to their age or have underlying conditions that put them at a greater risk should they get sick.

A recent effort to at least bring teachers together while they taught young students online over the summer didn't bode well. Three teachers shared a classroom at an Arizona public school. Although all three wore masks and gloves, used hand sanitizer and socially distanced, they all got infected with the coronavirus. One of them, who was 61, died in June.

Even experts do not yet have a good understanding of the likely risks tied to reopening K-12 school buildings. Much remains unknown about the degree to which kids, who appear to be unlikely to develop COVID-19 symptoms, can spread the coronavirus. It's unclear whether the heating and cooling systems in school buildings function adequately enough to rely on during a pandemic. And no one knows how the alternative scheduling scenarios taking shape might affect student and staff safety since for the most part they are unprecedented.

Greater Clout

This pushback from teachers is in keeping with a recent wave of mass mobilization by educators.

In 2018 and 2019, tens of thousands of public school teachers, both unionized and not, walked out of their classrooms. In states like Kentucky, Arizona, California and Illinois, they protested low salaries, large class sizes and cuts to school budgets that have forced many teachers to spend their own money on classroom materials.

From these walkouts, some statewide and others limited to specific school districts, teachers won better pay and working conditions. They also garnered considerable public support that may have bolstered educators' political clout in decisions being made about how to carry on with K-12 schooling in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Major Consequences

Teaching is challenging in the best of times. Now teachers are being asked and told to do more than ever: prepare in-person, online and hybrid lessons, allay students' anxieties, and risk their own and their families' health while serving students and families, often in communities where the pandemic isn't anywhere near under control.

Should school systems not heed teacher safety concerns, there's a risk that large numbers of educators might retire early or quit until conditions are safer.

A wave of resignations could have major consequences for school quality. Teacher experience makes a big difference, in terms of both measured student achievement and student behavior. And replacing them with inexperienced substitute teachers and others far less qualified and issued emergency credentials would surely take a toll on the quality of education children get, whether it happens online or in classrooms.

In my view, the educational costs of losing scores of veteran teachers over personal health concerns would be incalculable.

Michael Addonizio is a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the Wayne State University.

Disclosure statement: Michael Addonizio does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

An elephant at Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island. In Defense of Animals

By Marilyn Kroplick

The term "zoonotic disease" wasn't a hot topic of conversation before the novel coronavirus started spreading across the globe and upending lives. Now, people are discovering how devastating viruses that transfer from animals to humans can be. But the threat can go both ways — animals can also get sick from humans. There is no better time to reconsider the repercussions of keeping animals captive at zoos, for the sake of everyone's health.

Read More Show Less
Isiais now approaches the Carolinas, and is expected to strengthen into a hurricane again before reaching them Monday night. NOAA

Florida was spared the worst of Isaias, the earliest "I" storm on record of the Atlantic hurricane season and the second hurricane of the 2020 season.

Read More Show Less
A campaign targeting SUV advertising is a project between the New Weather Institute and climate charity Possible. New Weather Institute

To meet its climate targets, the UK should ban advertisements for gas-guzzling SUVs, according to a report from a British think tank that wants to make SUVs the new smoking, as the BBC reported.

Read More Show Less

A company from Ghana is making bikes out of bamboo.

By Kate Whiting

Bernice Dapaah calls bamboo "a miracle plant," because it grows so fast and absorbs carbon. But it can also work wonders for children's education and women's employment – as she's discovered.

Read More Show Less
Scientists say it will take a massive amount of collective action to reverse deforestation and save society from collapse. Big Cheese Photo / Getty Images Plus

Deforestation coupled with the rampant destruction of natural resources will soon have devastating effects on the future of society as we know it, according to two theoretical physicists who study complex systems and have concluded that greed has put us on a path to irreversible collapse within the next two to four decades, as VICE reported.

Read More Show Less
Researchers have turned to hydrophones, instruments that use underwater microphones to gather data beyond the reach of any camera or satellite. Pxfuel

By Kristen Pope

Melting and crumbling glaciers are largely responsible for rising sea levels, so learning more about how glaciers shrink is vital to those who hope to save coastal cities and preserve wildlife.

Read More Show Less

Trending

The fact is, cats play different predatory roles in different natural and humanized landscapes. PIXNIO / CCO

By William S. Lynn, Arian Wallach and Francisco J. Santiago-Ávila

A number of conservationists claim cats are a zombie apocalypse for biodiversity that need to be removed from the outdoors by "any means necessary" – coded language for shooting, trapping and poisoning. Various media outlets have portrayed cats as murderous superpredators. Australia has even declared an official "war" against cats.

Read More Show Less