Don’t Forget About Educator Safety When Reopening Schools

We are all in the midst of some very challenging times, regardless of our profession. When it comes to education, schools are grappling with reopening safely here in the United States. There are no easy answers or choices here.  As schools across the country are now virtually all closed for summer break, preparations are being made, and hopefully, comprehensive plans are being developed. However, in the midst of all of this, COVID19 cases are rising in many states. Those planning to begin reopening in phases have pushed the pause button. On top of it all are conflicting messages about what is the best course of action.

When it comes to students, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has come out strongly in favor of schools having students return to the classroom in the fall despite the ongoing risks associated with COVID-19, as reported in the Huffington Post. Below is an excerpt.

“The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school,” the group said in an update to its guidance for school re-entry. The guidance asserts that “the importance of in-person learning is well-documented,” and that evidence already has emerged of “negative impacts” on children due to school closures in the spring.

It is tough to deny the negative impacts the pandemic has had on kids such as learning loss, widening achievement gaps, social-emotional issues, and in some cases, a lack of physical activity and proper nutrition. Education Week provides a wealth of information and resources for schools in this recent piece focusing on developing the right schedule to meet the student needs. The bottom line is that schools need to reopen for their sake, but at what cost? As much as kids need to be in school learning, there is mounting pressure and concerns, rightfully so I might add, from adults who fear for their health and safety.


A recent story from ABC News highlights the fear and frustration felt by many educators.

Some teachers around the country say they are nervous about returning because of underlying health conditions or concerns about infecting family members. Others say they are frustrated by the lack of clear guidance from officials about what’s safe. And for some, it’s about child care if their own kids are only back at school for a handful of days during the week. The result is an inevitable clash between leaders pushing aggressive reopening policies in states like Texas and Florida and teachers, some of whom say local officials need to think more about what they are asking teachers to do.

All re-entry plans must emphasize health and safety above all else, something that I highlight in this post. The process should be a collaborative one that enlists the input from teachers, students, administrators, and community members. Any plan that actually succeeds in helping people feel at ease about reopening schools will incorporate many of the ideas that the group decides upon based on consensus.

No matter how great the planning process is, the result won’t be perfect or even acceptable for all. As many districts and schools are considering hybrid-learning models for kids that incorporate flexible schedules and choice, the same should be offered to teachers who are experiencing the issues laid out in the ABC News piece.  It is difficult for me even to suggest what this should look like. However, think about the different options and choices your district or school is offering students and adapt accordingly to teachers. A one-size-fits-all approach just won’t cut it, and we owe it to them, to our teachers, to do everything possible to support them as they come back to work, whatever that form might be. Strong and compassionate leadership will be critical to ease concerns while developing a successful plan for reopening.

It’s not just teachers we need to worry about, but also administrators and every other adult who is asked to work in a building.  Considerations should also be made for these people if the same COVID-19 concerns are prevalent.  The challenge and inherent opportunity are to begin to think about what types of work have to be done in-person and those that can be completed remotely.  

The time is now to put all the cards on the table while considering various options for staff that need them. Forcing anyone into a painful or uncomfortable decision because of COVD-19 risks, both direct and indirect, must be avoided. If not, then we might very well see a mass exodus of educators this school year.