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.