Earlier this month, teacher Christine Esposito wrote a Facebook post about schools reopening that has gone super viral. In her post, which has gathered more 55,000 shares, Esposito describes what many teachers (and parents) are thinking about schools reopening during an out-of-control pandemic.
For starters, she notes, there’s not enough school funding to pay for tissues or hand sanitizer during regular flu seasons. And while Esposito acknowledges that we’re all desperate for our kids to get an education and for all of us to get back to something like normal life (or better), she points out that bringing back in-person classes likely risks the health of every adult who comes into contact with students, from custodians to lunchroom staff to parents and teachers. She also understands how hard it is—for both children and working parents—to face another school year at home.
Her message is so strong a lot of the comments are praising her for her very eloquent way of putting what others have been trying to say. “Wow Espo!!! This is so perfect!!!” one comment reads. Another says, “This, every word of this.”
Here’s the entire Facebook post reads:
“I get it. I do. You need schools to open because… you’re not getting anything done, your kids need to see other kids, you have a job to do, and you just plain need a break. I get it. I do.
I’ve seen the research. Kids are, as much as we can determine barely six months into a pandemic, less likely to get it. They’re less likely to suffer from a severe form of the disease, possibly less likely to transmit it. The calls for opening schools with this data make total sense. Are you going to send your kids into a building with no adults? No. So when you’re out there demanding that schools open and all of your arguments are about you, about what you need, about what your kids need, but NEVER ONCE mention the dangers to the staff and faculty who will necessarily need to be in those schools, you can see where I’m a little concerned.
I’ve accepted that I ask my friends two or three times a year to donate food to our “snack closet” because ending poverty, let alone childhood poverty and all the many things that encompasses it, seems to be beyond us. I’ve accepted that I spend hundreds of dollars of my own money every year to buy things my students need because adequately funding schools seems to be beyond us. I’ve accepted that there might come a time I have to lock my students in the closet in my classroom—and let me tell you how blessed I feel that I have a closet big enough to fit all of my kids—because reasonable gun control seems to be beyond us.
Now you’re asking us to accept going back into classrooms in the middle of a pandemic. Classrooms that are located in buildings that have been neglected for decades (please see: adequate funding), that in some cases have no windows that open, where our support people—occupational therapists, speech therapists are working in closets (please see: adequate funding), and buildings that have sketchy HVAC on a good day.
You’ll forgive us if we’re not quite onboard with this idea yet. You see, if we want hand sanitizer in our classrooms, we have to ask parents to donate it. If we want Lysol wipes for our classrooms, we have to ask our parents to donate it. If we want tissues for snotty noses, we have to ask our parents to donate it. They do. Every year they do and many of them donate these things despite their precarious financial situations. I have no doubt that those parents would make these donations again—despite their much more precarious financial situation—if those things were available for purchase.
Since, for the entire two decades I’ve been teaching, we’ve been asking parents to donate basic school supplies because we can’t or won’t adequately fund education, you might see where we’re a little hesitant to go back into those classrooms without masks, without face shields, because masks don’t work with the littlest kids (though face shields really aren’t nearly as effective as masks, but…), without any promise of reliable, regular testing with a quick turnaround of results, without any plan for what happens when someone gets sick, without any plan for what staff and faculty do when someone in their family is sick, without any plan on how we help parents who need the childcare, so they’re forced to give kids Tylenol in order to get through the temperature screening so they don’t lose their job, without any promise of additional money to hire more teachers, to lease more space, to scale up what distance learning will or could look like. (Does anyone really think we’re going to make it through flu season without ending up right where we were in March?)
Do you know what schools look like once school starts? We are a snotty, sneezing, sniffly, coughing mess and that’s without spike proteins invading our beings.
I’m worried for me. I have parents who are considered elderly (sorry about that, but you are). Parents I have only seen from a distance since early March, except for that super socially-distanced Father’s Day. I’m worried for teachers who are parents—what will they do with their kids whose school schedules might be wildly different than that of their parents. I’m worried for the teachers who are older (and I’m REALLY sorry I’m considered one of them). But I’m more worried about our custodial staff, bus drivers, our cafeteria workers, our instructional assistants who are far more likely to be BIPOC, people who are far less likely to have the resources needed to survive an extended illness (again, not funding what matters), whose family members are more likely to be considered an essential worker in some other field.I don’t see anyone having these conversations.
I don’t see ANY consideration for the adults in school buildings in all the articles calling for schools to open. AAP is telling schools to open, but not giving any guidance on how to do so safely for students AND staff alike. That must be nice. You have to open and good luck on figuring out how to make that work. We’re used to flying by the seat of our pants and making it work. This is a poor solution most of the time and it is a completely untenable one in the middle of a pandemic, one that has been managed in the worst possible way at the federal level.
I’m worried for my kids. I know they need to be back at school. I saw how distance learning went this spring. It wasn’t pretty. I know that our kids need teachers who aren’t terrified to be at work because there’s nothing in place that would suggest society values teachers as more than cheap childcare, despite the fact that this spring and summer should have sounded that message loud and clear. I know our kids need to be around each other.
I’m worried that people are going to start calling for “normal” school. Nothing about this is normal. Even if kids are in school full time, nothing about this is going to be normal. We’re going to be facing kids who are dealing with layer upon layer of trauma, we need to make time and space for that, so stop telling me kids are behind. They’re not any further behind than anyone else. They’re behind some arbitrary lines we drew in the sand so long ago we’re not sure we remember why we drew them. We need to meet our kids where they are. I don’t want to hear one word about testing, unless it involves a nasal or throat swab. Not. One. Word.
The worst part about this is the completely cavalier attitude I see from far too many about doing what needs to be done if you have even half a prayer of opening schools this fall. Wear a mask. Stay home. No, you don’t need to eat in that restaurant. No, you don’t need to go visit your parents or friends 5 states away. No, you don’t need to go hang out with your friends because you’ll really stay 6 feet away—let me assure you that the pictures you’ve posted show me that is almost never true. Yes. You need to wear a mask. Yes. You need to stay home unless it’s really important. If you can’t do any of those things, but want me to go back to school in August with a smile on my face, you’re asking me to make far bigger sacrifices than the ones you’ve been willing to make so far.”