Dear Superintendent, We are all well aware that Kentucky is seeing ever-increasing numbers of cases of COVID-19. We are setting new records for infections daily. We would like to thank the districts that have taken the responsible steps by following the CDC guidelines to ensure everyone’s safety by beginning their school year virtually.
According to the benchmarks set out by the White House pandemic task force, in conjunction with Governor Andy Beshear, we have yet to achieve Phase 1 criteria for a safe reopening of our state. That’s all the more reason for superintendents across Kentucky and the Kentucky Department of Education to take the lead in a safe reopening for schools.
Teachers across our state are concerned for our students, their families and our communities. Recent studies reveal that children 10 and older are as susceptible as adults to coronavirus infection. Many of our students come from high-risk or multigenerational households. These families are the ones most vulnerable to both COVID-19 and academic struggle and regression, posing a moral dilemma. However, we need to err on the side of health, safety and life.
The positivity rate of infection for the state of Kentucky has risen dramatically in the past few weeks (now 8.91%, according to Johns Hopkins University of Medicine data).
Our new case numbers were 836 on July 25, including 22 new cases aged 5 and under. Let’s stop pretending we are going to deal with this crisis by fantasizing that our teachers and students are immune to this virus.
So, if distance learning is the only choice we have to ensure that we minimize the health impact of this pandemic, then why are we not implementing it across the state? This virus does not care what county you live in. When people travel, the virus travels. Stop gambling with people’s lives in the illusion that we can return to life as normal by returning to schools in person. The only way we address this pandemic is to err on the side of safety.
If distance learning is the only safe return to schools, then we need to focus on the inequities that exist in our districts with equitable distance learning.
We need to be working toward universal wi-fi access, providing technology for students in need and listening to parents so as to improve Non-Traditional Instruction.
CDC guidelines for in-person schooling require proper mask wearing, social distancing (since masks are not magic wands), frequent hand-washing and strict confinement.
There’s no way to meet those guidelines with children in full classrooms and buses. Our choices are not between NTI and school as it was. Hybrid models and NTI assignments where teachers still risk exposure from colleagues by returning to school buildings will undoubtedly lead to increased new hotspots. We have no reason to believe that in-person schooling — in which children sit much closer than six feet, lack recess and physical education, and cannot interact — will be any more successful than NTI. Seven hours at their desks — what misery! But in-person schooling risks teachers’ lives and health, especially since one-third are over 50 years old, and 60% of all Americans have at least one comorbidity. In addition, we must consider the effect when a child unwittingly infects a family member or friend. What if a child were to infect a loved one? And God forbid, the loved one dies! By the end of September, all 171 of Kentucky’s public school districts will have no choice but to resort to NTI; the only question is how many people we have sickened and killed by then by reckless actions.
Child-care centers across the nation — even when practicing stricter social distancing than some schools are planning — have become the new COVID-19 hotspots, comparable to nursing homes for infections. In Florida, daycare centers have again been closed. We should proactively prevent COVID-19 outbreaks before they occur rather than reactively re-close schools after the three weeks of incubation leads to skyrocketing numbers of new cases.
A healthy economy relies on a healthy population; with escalating rates of coronavirus cases, our tenuous economy recovery will sputter and then crash. COVID-19 flare-ups will not just snuff out human lives but any chance of economic recovery.
That is not to say that we can overlook the social-emotional health of our students during this catastrophic pandemic. We need to address the added trauma of both the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice.
We understand that resources need to address this trauma as long as we cannot safely return to our school buildings and after, as well. We need to listen and respond to parents as they voice their concerns about making distance learning as user-friendly as possible.
While teachers are on the front lines, students, their families and communities will also be at risk from premature reopenings. We need your leadership to resist dangerous, reckless in-person openings. As educators and administrators, we have no greater duty than to protect Kentucky’s children and communities. Health and safety must come first! We cannot have in-person schooling at this time.
The concerned teachers of Kentucky Educators United