Returning to the classroom is the worm in the apple for some
Optimally we’ll return to a world where families attend live school graduations in auditoriums and public venues packed with proud parents and students beaming in glossy gowns and caps with tassels. That day will come … even for inner city schools.
In school districts across the country in 2021, devoted educators are acutely aware and understandably concerned about those in-between years and the risks of prematurely returning to in-person teaching in elementary, middle school and high school students due to the risks presented by the pandemic to students and educators in the classroom.
In Cobb County, GA where schools reopened on Jan. 25 – in the height of the COVID-19 school controversy – five teachers died from COVID-19, three of those after having face-to-face interactions with unmasked school officials.
“We are responsible for the physical, academic, social, and emotional wellbeing of our students and, during this time of COVID we have to put the physical first,” explained Lisa Morgan of the Georgia Educators Association.
Detroit Public Schools Community District will begin transitioning back to in person learning by reopening its Learning Centers at all schools and grade levels on Wednesday, Feb. 24.
Teachers in Chicago have determined that they will continue providing instruction remotely as city leaders and union officials work to reach a deal to return educators to the classroom following coronavirus-induced closures.
“We continue to teach remotely because of our members’ unity, their commitment to their school communities, and their fearless solidarity,” Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said in a statement on Monday. “Our members’ resolve on the ground allowed us to make real progress at the bargaining table today on a number of the most difficult issues of this negotiation.”
Chicago Public School teachers and more than 60,000 students were expected to return to in-person instruction on Monday as part of the city’s phased reopening plan, but union officials have refused to go back to in-person learning, citing ongoing public health concerns
But for lawmakers and educators embroiled in the debate about whether remote learning is working, the overwhelming consensus is that students, particularly families and students with limited resources for online learning are losing and teachers are being asked or ordered to return to the classroom.
“The greatest source of social injustice is our lack of fair access and fair outcomes in our educational system,” Wisconsin state Sen. Dale Kooyenga decried regarding the use of virtual school amid the COVID-19 pandemic, calling the process a “social injustice.”
Teachers reluctant to return to face-to-face in classroom instruction legitimately argue that the risks to their personal health and wellbeing of themselves, their students and the families of students is also a “social injustice.”
No doubt students in every district are missing out on the energy and social engagement fueled by in-person interactions, a significant number of inner-city educators from Atlanta to New York and Chicago to New Orleans are reluctant to go back into the classroom.
Atlanta Public School teachers have been back in classrooms since mid-January in urban areas across the country but they continue to express strong concern about decisions and the directives passed down to them.
Rightfully, teachers and school personnel are now eligible for COVID vaccinations in school districts around the country. But they have expressed some resentment regarding their commitment to educating their young charges and that they’re devotion to the profession is in question.
“I don’t know a single teacher who doesn’t want to be in the classroom. This has been difficult. But they’re scared, too,” said music teacher Lisa Judkins, president of the Trinity Area Education Association in Pennsylvania.
“You’re in a closed space with a large amount of students, and you know they’re doing outside activities, seeing multiple people, doing dance and sports, and you’re not sure if they’re adhering to protocols. It’s concerning, especially for staff that have family members who are older, or who have underlying conditions themselves.”
Conversely, political officials around the country are echoing the sentiment of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (D), telling teachers that they need to “suck it up” and return to the classroom so that in-person learning can resume despite concerns about COVID-19. Bloomberg went on to site that “poor [minority kids] are harmed the most” by the disruption in education.
“They will never recover from this and they had a bad education experience anyways,” Bloomberg said as he argued that children from less affluent families did not have good schools available to them and are particularly hindered by lack of access to technology.
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