Dear Jake Tapper,
I feel betrayed. I tweeted but you didn’t respond.
Rarely do I have time to watch your show, but I’d worked ahead on my lesson plans and grading, so I could finish early to make a birthday cake for my son. I had on “The Beat” while I was in the kitchen, and you did this segment about “Do Teachers Need to be Vaccinated for Schools to Safely Reopen?” Dr. Paul Offit was your guest, and you asked him if there was any reason why a “normal, healthy” adult couldn’t go back to school safely. He said no. Then you said something like, “teachers say they don’t want to return to school because they don’t feel safe.” You said this with incredulity, like (and perhaps I’m being overly sensitive) you couldn’t believe teachers could be so selfish as to base school re-openings on something like “feelings.” Anyway, whatever your subtext was, it wasn’t really a question, but an invitation for Dr. Offit to dismiss the concerns of teachers, and then you said something like, “we need to choose between teachers and students,” and then I got so mad I turned it off.
You see, teachers have been accused of selfishness a lot lately. Teachers unions have been vilified. We are seen as hysterical and getting in the way of kids’ – and society’s – well-being. And never do we get interviewed or asked by reporters or scientists why we don’t “feel safe.” So someone like you, who I know values fair journalism and reporting the truth, should talk to a teacher.
So, I tweeted you. But again, you didn’t respond.
You and Dr. Paul Offit should invite a group of 30 sixteen year-olds over to your living room, a room which I’ll assume is on the larger size. There should be enough space for them all to sit 6 feet apart comfortably, right? Keep in mind, these teenagers know each other and some are friends and they haven’t yet learned a lot of self-restraint and it’s been a while since they’ve seen each other, so they might need some firm reminders about social distancing. Others have parents who believe Covid 19 is a hoax and that masks are an infringement on their personal freedoms. Those kids also most likely blame YOU for having had to distance-learn all these months, so get ready for an argument when you tell them that if they don’t wear a mask, they’ll have to go home.
Oh, and you’ll need to teach them something. Perhaps you could do a lecture about journalism, but you’ll be wearing a mask while you do, and you can’t come close to any of them if they have a question. After around 90 minutes you will need to disinfect every surface they’ve touched or sat upon, and then you’ll host another group of 30 teenagers and do the same thing, and then again, a couple more times. Around mid-day, these kids will take off their masks and eat lunch. I’m not sure exactly how they’ll get to your place or go home, but it will most likely be on a bus where they can’t social distance.
You would “feel safe” with all that, right?
Perhaps you’re thinking you’ll just host 15 kids at a time, and they can have out their computers, and the rest of the kids will have out their computers at home, and you’ll teach your lesson to a computer while you’re wearing a mask and you’ll disinfect and you’ll monitor all the kids to make sure they’re wearing their masks and keeping their distance.
How would that scenario make you “feel”?
Here’s the thing: you and medical doctors can tout CDC studies like the one done on 17 schools in rural Wisconsin that found that IF proper mitigation techniques like social distancing, mask wearing, and students travelling in pods are followed, that school is safe.
But most schools have trouble adhering to those standards for various reasons, and that doesn’t count what to do about lunch or transportation.
You can assume that most teachers are “normal, healthy” adults, without taking into account the vast amount of teachers who are over 65, or who have underlying health conditions, or who live with people with health conditions. Staffing is an issue, and so is finding substitute teachers for regular teachers who are quarantined and/or ill.
You can say there is no evidence of increased spread in school buildings, but the fact is, many cases go unreported, especially if kids are asymptomatic. If a teacher or school staff gets Covid 19 and it’s not 100% clear that it was from someone else in the school, then it’s reported as “community spread.” Plus, lots of parents send their kids to school sick. Lots of parents refuse to get their kids tested.
One more thing: this isn’t just about teachers. We don’t know much about the long term effects of this virus and how young people are affected. It seems foolhardy to say there is “no question” that kids are better off back in school buildings. We just don’t know. In addition, lots of schools that started distance but went back to in-person made families choose, so kids who’d been used to having the same classmates and teachers all year were switched. Other schools keep going back and forth between distance and hybrid as case rates rise and fall again, making teachers have to change their plans and strategies, making them unable to give their students consistency.
I am lucky that I work for a district that is cautious and I have been able to teach distance since March. At our school, we have spent hundreds of hours reaching out to kids and their families, making connections, and developing lessons that are interactive and challenging. Ideally, we’d be back in the classroom, but we’re not in an ideal situation right now, and we’re doing the best for kids that we know how to do. Will we go back if case rates continue to go down, even if we’re not vaccinated? Probably. But I trust that my school district will make an informed choice, taking into account the complexities of public education and safety issues, that they won’t just dismiss the “feelings” of teachers as being irrelevant.
I wish you, and other media members, and all the doctors who think they’re experts on public education, would do the same.