• VirusSafeSchools

Teachers get to choose too - There are risks to them and their families

One of my cousins posted the following comment from a teacher and I wanted to reprint the comment as well as my response:

Nick Parlapiano

The amount of insults I’ve seen directed towards teachers and the profession over the last few weeks has honestly left me disgusted.

People have been complaining about how teachers need to “suck it up” like everyone else and get back to work. Oh, I didn’t realize that I stopped working in March? In fact I think from March through June was the toughest span of my teaching career thus far. And please stop using the word “homeschool” — you did not homeschool your child(ren). We taught them as best as we could have, and parents had to help along the way... that’s not what homeschooling is. It was distance learning that was thrown at all of us.

I became a teacher because as far back as I can remember that was always my aspiration — I love helping people, I put on a good show in front of an audience, and I love what I do. And I think that’s why it hurts so much. I, like many of my colleagues, am the one who, in the past, has went to work on days when I was unwell because I knew that no substitute could provide what I knew my kids needed in the classroom. I, like all of my colleagues, am the one who stands as the barrier between my kids and any possible threat during a lockdown because I would do anything to protect them from harm. I do it year in and year out, and I’ll continue to do it because that’s my job.

So if you hear anyone bashing teachers please do the right thing and DEFEND US. I know that the situation isn’t ideal for anyone at this point, but making us out to be lazy and cowardly is the furthest thing from the truth. We’re allowed to be afraid and we’re allowed to be concerned, just like everyone else is. Thank you

My response:

It is not necessary to vilify anyone. Each of us have unique situations that make it more or less risky to work in an environment that potentially could damage our health. Each school and school district has implemented a wide variety of mitigation from none to significant mitigation. The complexity of each individual situation demands that folks first understand what and why someone has made a decision and then have a conversation (a rational, dispassionate, fact-based conversation). It is important for each person (student, parent, teacher, staff, and even administrators) to engage with their school or district to understand the risk of a return to school. One tool to facilitate this can be found at I'm sure there are others (although I haven't found another questionnaire like the one at VirusSafeSchools).

I think it is appropriate for all of us to take a deep breath, take a step back, and walk in the other person's shoes. What if a teacher has a pre-existing condition that would put them in peril should they be infected by COVID-19? What if their spouse does? Or how about the parents who live with them and are cared for by them at home? Or what if they have a child with a pre-existing condition at home? Can you imagine how you would feel if you brought COVID-19 home with you from work or school and infected your child, your spouse, or your Mom or Dad and they subsequently died? Now imagine living with that for the rest of your life. Now imagine you were a 6 year old 1st grader who brought COVID-19 home and will live with that for the next 90 years.

Also, you must be aware that teachers do have an ethics framework that they subscribe to. NEA code of ethics Principle 1, Item 4, the educator "Shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning or to health and safety." If an educator is aware that the air filtration is inadequate at the school, or the school/district has inadequate preventative measures, the teacher is bound by their ethical framework to do what they can, "make reasonable effort" to protect the students from harm. If they can only do so through a walkout or by calling attention to the dangerous conditions, good on them. The teacher's ethical standard requires the educator to balance the relative harms - harm of delayed education vs harm to health and make a principled stand. At the least we owe them the time to listen to their concern.

We can do better and should do better. This shouldn't be about politics. We each need to be responsible for measuring our own risk, the risk to ourselves, our children and the rest of our families. And then, once we know what that risk is (because the schools are being transparent and we have asked the right questions and received the information necessary to make an informed decision), we make the right decision for ourselves and our loved ones.