Opinion | Michigan educators like me must be heard in school reopening talks

Bill Daniels

Bill Daniels teaches world history at Flushing High School. 

As a veteran public school teacher, I’m flabbergasted when I hear people say we should throw caution to the wind and return to full-time, in-person learning regardless of potential health or safety risks. This claim is short-sighted on many fronts, and in almost all cases is made by those with zero experience in the classroom.

I love my job, and I miss my students terribly. This school year, I’m scheduled to teach world history at Flushing High School. History has become my teaching specialty over my 21 years at Flushing Community Schools, and I can’t wait to get back in the classroom.

I also value the lives of our public school educators, students and their families, and their health and safety must be our top priority. Before reopening our school buildings, we must have assurances all health protections recommended by medical experts will be strictly enforced to prevent future COVID-19 outbreaks and building closures. We owe it to our kids to do everything in our power to return to in-person learning this fall but only if health experts say we can keep them, their families and school employees safe. If medical experts say it isn’t safe to reopen our school buildings, we shouldn’t do it. Plain and simple.

At a bare minimum, we must have face coverings, hand sanitizer and other health essentials for every student in every classroom, and enough janitorial staff to clean and sanitize every inch of our school buildings every day. It’s a tall, but necessary order. To safely and effectively reopen our schools, front-line educators must have a seat at the table. Just like we’ve listened to nurses, doctors and other public health experts throughout the pandemic, I strongly urge decision makers to heed the voices of public school educators when making the many tough choices ahead.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to safely and effectively reopening our schools. What works for us here in Flushing most likely wouldn’t work in Detroit, Grand Rapids or the U.P. In many cases, students will need additional supports to address social, emotional and physical challenges they may have developed during the pandemic. We are in dire need of a major influx of funding, particularly from the federal government and time isn’t on our side. We’re about a month out from the official start of the school year, and we’re still waiting on Congress to provide this critical support.

At the outset of the pandemic, Congress was quick to bail out airlines, cruise lines, banks and other large corporate industries. It’s time to give the same consideration to our public schools. The challenges ahead are daunting, to say the least. For the sake of our students, public school educators, families and communities, we cannot afford half-measures.

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Sharon Stanton
Tue, 08/04/2020 - 8:34am

Thank you for this perspective. In "normal" times I feel incredibly thankful for educators. I can't imagine being in your shoes at a time like this. We are struggling to decide how to proceed with school this fall. There is no "right" answer and every parent must decide what is best for their situation. What a mess.

A Yooper
Tue, 08/04/2020 - 10:13am

The medical data must rule these decision, solely. Many schools who choose to have face to face contact will not have the sufficient resources to guarantee safety of all in the myriad of buildings and rooms, even bathrooms, during school times.
And, administrators and school boards MUST listen to all the players, e.g., teachers, aides, custodians, clerical staffs, cafeteria staffs, bus drivers, essentially anybody in those settings during the course of the day. Or else we will have a second, third wave or more of the virus.
Micro management has never been successful.

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 9:37am

Yes, safe procedures must be followed and we must keep workers safe.

If Kroger workers can come in close proximity with thousands of people EACH DAY and do their jobs, teachers that come in close proximity with the same 25 children each can do their jobs as well. Also, see factory workers.

The author is "flabbergasted" people seem to want him to work. Maybe it is the same people that are already working each day that are "flabbergasted" he does not seem want to work? Unless conditions are 100% safe. Where is that place, exactly?

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 8:03pm

Kroger requires customers to wear masks; Michigan elementary students are not required to wear masks. Kroger offers protective barriers for its cashiers; Michigan school districts are not required to enforce even minimum social distancing. And last I checked, grocery store customers and factory workers are ADULTS. It’s neither valid nor productive to compare grocery stores and factories to schools.