As Schools Plan for Reopening, Worried Teachers Say They Have More Questions Than Answers

President Kimberly Adams shares the FEA positions on return to schools in the EdWeek Teaching Blog – featured story, June 30. 

In Fairfax, Va., administrators asked parents to choose an enrollment option—entirely remote instruction or a hybrid approach. In the first option, students would receive “virtual, interactive instruction” four days a week. In the second option, students would attend schools in person for at least two days and be “engaged in independent study and work” on the other days. One day a week would be set aside for teacher planning and student intervention in both scenarios. 

Teachers are also being surveyed about what option they’d prefer. But the three teachers’ unions that represent the district—one of the largest in the country—have asked their members to choose the entirely remote option, at least until administrators can present a more detailed plan for how they will keep students and staff safe.

“It doesn’t seem like they’re going to be able to protect everyone because of how this disease spreads and how schools function,” said Kimberly Adams, the president of the Fairfax Education Association. She doesn’t think it’ll be safe to reopen schools until there’s a vaccine. 

“Logistically, we don’t know a lot of the answers,” she said.  “To say you’re going to sign a contract saying you’ll do this is very high risk.” 

The teachers’ associations have been told that accommodations will be made for teachers who don’t want to go back to school based on a tiered system of necessity, Adams said. The first tier will be for teachers who are personally at high risk for serious illness due to COVID-19. The second tier will be for teachers who live with someone who is high-risk. The next tier will be for teachers who have child-care challenges or another reason they can’t go back to school, and the last tier will be for teachers who simply don’t feel comfortable going back without an underlying reason. The district will accommodate as many teachers as they can, starting with the first tier and working their way down, Adams said. 

But teachers are worried about disclosing their medical conditions, Adams said, and childcare will be a major challenge. If students are only in school two days a week, but teachers are expected to teach for four days and spend the fifth day planning, it’s unclear where teachers’ children will go the three days they’re not in class. Adams said the associations are pushing the school system to establish a child-care center for teachers’ kids.

“There’s a sentiment that teachers should be ready to jump in and give it all up for our families and students like we always do, but [this time] we have our own families so it’s a little different,” said Adams, the Fairfax teachers’ association president. “[People say] health care workers did it, why can’t teachers? We didn’t sign up to be health care workers.” 

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