President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan calls for $750 billion for schools to achieve safe reopening. Last week he set a goal to have almost all American schools reopened in 100 days.
It’s an important goal. And I’m always thrilled about investments in education.
I understand that many school districts are currently teaching their students remotely. Having taught remotely back in the spring of 2020, I know how challenging it can be for both teachers and students and how crippling it can be for working parents.
I agree with the President. We need to get our schools safely reopened.
Last week, my wife tested positive for COVID-19. It’s almost certain that she contracted the virus while teaching. As a result, she is now isolated in our bedroom, thankfully dealing with only mild symptoms so far. Our kids have tested negative twice so far. I have been tested four times. Three negative results and awaiting a fourth.
We are all quarantined for two weeks due to our exposure. We will be tested again today.
I say all this as a reminder that many school districts are already fully open, including the school district where Elysha and I teach. We spend about 7 hours every day in a single room with 14 to 18 other human beings. We are all masked, of course, and we remain as socially distant as possible, though six feet is impossible given the size of the classrooms and the nature of children.
Also, six feet is a nonsense number. This virus is aerosolized. Six feet applies to droplets only. Aerosols demand at least 10 feet distance at all times.
Also, no one in school is routinely tested.
Yesterday I was listening to two actors on a podcast talk about recently filming a movie. They described the protocols in place, including a reduced number of crew, the use of high-level air filtration devices, and twice per day COVID-19 testing.
“It’s not 100% safe,” one actor said. “And it’s scary as hell at times. But we’re doing the job.”
I consult with a factory owner who also tests his employees every day, has reconfigured his floorspace to guarantee at least 10 feet of distance between every person, and has installed dozens of air purification devices throughout this facility.
None of the benefits enjoyed by actors, athletes, and at least some factory workers are in place for teachers and students who occupy classrooms together everyday. This is a massive failure on the federal level. An abject disregard for science, health policy, and basic human decency.
Other countries have managed to already put these measures in place to guarantee safe school openings. The United States has not, primarily because of Trump’s desire to deny the realities of the pandemic and his inability and unwillingness to manage a crisis.
It’s a travesty.
When I talk to my clients around the country, many are astounded that I spend all day in a room full of human beings. Some have told me that it’s insane. Part of the reason it’s even possible is the state where I live. Connecticut has the highest adherence to mask wearing in the country. The state closed earlier than most and has reopened slower than most. We followed CDC protocols. As a result, we currently have the third lowest rate of infection in the country, and we are in the top four in terms of vaccine distribution.
My wife and I are teaching in person partly because we live in a rational, reasonable state where its residents have collectively agreed to do the right thing and the government has made decisions based upon science.
Still, it’s not like our schools are COVID-free. My school, Elysha’s school, and our own children’s schools, where they attend classes in person four days a week, have reported multiple cases of COVID-19 in both students and adults. The districts produce daily, public reports on the number of infected and quarantined students and staff.
I say all of this not because I think our schools should be closed. I say it because I don’t want the sacrifices of my colleagues or my wife, who is now sick, to be forgotten in the pursuit of reopening all schools.
While we need Biden’s proposed $750 billion to reopen schools safely, some of us have been open all along. In the face of rising infection numbers and the emergence of more contagious and potentially more deadly strains of the virus, many teachers are entering buildings filled with hundreds, if not thousands, of students every single day.
Many are frightened for much of the day. Frightened for themselves and afraid to bring this virus home to their families. But they do the job despite the fear and danger that they face.
Some enter the school despite elevated risk factors because they are willing to risk their health in order to be with their students. I know teachers with asthma, heart conditions, and immune deficiencies teaching in rooms filled with students every day.
I don’t want their sacrifices lost as we try to reopen schools.
Some of us are open, doing our jobs, working in conditions less safe than those for basketball players, actors, and at least some factory workers.
I’m not complaining about the working conditions. I’m not advocating for remote learning. I’m not even asking for the same level of precautions afforded athletes and actors. I won’t waste my time on those requests.
We live in a country where the stock market soars, enormous corporations go untaxed, and American children go hungry every night. I didn’t go into teaching ever expecting to be treated as well as a professional athlete or actor. This country has misplaced its priorities far too long for me to expect a change overnight.
But I will ask that the sacrifices of teachers who are working in schools now, educating children and sometimes becoming infected, not be forgotten as we try like hell to reopen schools across this country. I would ask that parents try like hell to take precautions if we’re lucky enough to send our kids to school every day.
I don’t want the sacrifices made by teachers – my wife included, who is now battling this disease – to be ignored because so many schools are closed.
Yes, we must reopen schools as quickly and safely as possible.
But many of us are open for business already, and we’ve been open for most, if not all, of the school year.
Let us not forget those sacrifices already made.