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Teacher concern high ahead of school reopening: ‘They're terrified. They’re looking for other work. We’re making out our wills …’

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kokomo teachers association

BACK TO SCHOOL — Nicki Mundy, president of the Kokomo Teachers Association, introduces a new project to students in her STEM English 9 class at Kokomo High School in 2018.

The first day of school is fast approaching for area school districts, while cases of COVID-19 continue to mount. And, with that, concern from local teachers also mounts.

As of now, some school districts are moving forward with modified plans for the impending academic year. Some school districts in other parts of the state have postponed start dates, while other districts are marching onward. Locally, all area school corporations are beginning the school year on time, albeit with options for remote learning or in-person instruction, depending upon a student’s preference for most districts.

For teachers, that means they’ll be in the classroom when school starts, leaving them with questions, doubts, and fears about the possibility of contracting COVID-19.

“They’re terrified,” said Natalie Guest, who is set to begin teaching with Kokomo School Corporation this year. “They’re looking for other work. We’re making out our wills and updating our wills if we have one. You should always have a will, but this is something to where people are thinking about their demise in a way they never have before.”

To this point, the state of Indiana is experiencing a surge in new cases of COVID-19. Last week alone, the state underwent the two consecutive days of record-setting single-day spikes in new cases, with 954 new positive cases being logged on Thursday and 1,011 on Friday. Cases also climbed over the weekend with around 1,800 more being reported.

All the while, some teachers consider the guidance from the state for school corporations to be thin. In a letter sent to the Gov. Eric Holcomb in June, the Indiana State Teachers Association voiced a number of concerns. For example, educators sought clarification on when schools should close or reopen due to infections in the educational facilities.

And other questions remain.

“What happens when all the teachers start getting sick because we don’t have subs as it is,” said Nicole Mundy, president of Kokomo Teachers Association. “So, what are we doing when people get sick because they’re susceptible, and they’re higher risk? That’s a big concern. Who will cover their class?”

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Such concerns are numerous for local teachers, according to Mundy, in addition to concerns for student and educator safety. As of last week, no uniform plan had been put out by the state relating to how school corporations should handle reopening. Every corporation puts together its own plan, as is the case with KSC. Their plan entails the option for students to utilize in-person or virtual learning options. Disinfecting and cleaning plans are in place as well, in addition to social-distancing parameters.

But, at times, some of these measures may be difficult to accomplish. According to Guest, her class consists of 26 students this year. Her classroom is about 600 square feet. Maintaining six feet of distance between students, she said, just isn’t possible.

“How am I going to keep 26 kids safe and socially distanced properly?” said Guest.

Guest went so far as to create her own school reopening plan, which she circulated to state lawmakers, the governor’s office, and the school corporation. Such a solution to this problem, as she suggested, would be staggering classes into two-week cohorts, which would help minimize the number of students in the building at once.

But, Guest said she’s received little to no response from the state about such ideas.

With the pandemic not slowing, teachers are left wondering about the choice of returning to school. Mundy said she would prefer to be in a classroom, as would her colleagues, but feared that not shifting to remote learning would be a mistake.

“I just want us to do what’s right for the majority of people involved and make sure everybody is safe,” said Mundy. “I’m not a fan of remote learning. I can say that with so much confidence. But if I have to remote learn for part of the school year because that’s what’s best for my students. I will do it because that’s what’s best for my students, and it will keep the most number of people safe.”

Teachers did get a win last week when the governor ordered a mask mandate, which would be effective in schools for all students in third grade and above. The ISTA had reportedly requested such a move previously.