Teachers push back, urge closing schools
Several Clark County public schoolteachers pleaded with elected officials to keep schools closed while the spread of the coronavirus is rampant, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.
The school board voted 3-2 Monday night against a proposal by member Bill Taulbee for instruction to remain virtual through the end of the year.
However, a decision Wednesday by the governor made the board’s decision moot. He ordered that middle and high schools remain closed until Jan. 4 and elementary schools remain closed at least until Dec. 7 or longer if their counties remain in the “red zone.”
Some teachers expressed resentment of the notion that it was irresponsible of them to want instruction to stay virtual while the threat of the disease was high.
Kiley Jones, a teacher at Campbell Junior High School, pushed back against the idea that teachers were “living in fear” and “that we should just get over ourselves and do our jobs.”
“We are doing our jobs,” she said, speaking into a camera at Central Office while board members met virtually from their homes. “There aren’t many teachers who are loving this,” she said, referring to the mix of online and in-person instruction, “but we’re doing the best we can.”
Jones said there are “certain members of the board that want to keep pushing this” and who want to ignore the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control, such as requiring a minimum of six feet of social distancing.
“We fear that the people who are making these big decisions aren’t listening to the people that are more qualified,” she said.
The teachers shared results of a recent survey of their colleagues that showed overwhelming support for online or virtual instruction when the county is in the “red zone,” meaning 25 or more COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population.
Brian Foudray, president of the Clark County Education Association and a teacher at George Rogers Clark High School, said that his survey of 211, which was more than twice as large a sample as one done earlier in the year, showed 86 percent of the employees said they did not feel comfortable working in a school building when the incident rate is in the red in Clark County, surrounding counties and the state as a whole, and the same percentage said they would prefer to continue distance learning until the incident rate is in the yellow category or there is a “sustained drop over the course of a rolling seven-day period.” And 78 percent didn’t feel comfortable working in their school given the current number of positive cases and people under quarantine, although because of confidentiality rules, they don’t know what that number is.
Jones said the results for RDC showed 79 percent of her schools’ employees don’t feel comfortable working while the county is in the red, and 75 percent said they want to stay virtual until the county is in the yellow or has a seven-day decline in positive cases.
“Basically, nobody wants to come back into the building as long as we are in red,” Conkwright Elementary School first-grade teacher Renee Perry said. “Overall, the feeling is one of frustration,” she said, describing the mood of teachers in her school.
Brooke Rannells, a special education teacher at Strode Station Elementary School, said her school’s survey showed 29 of 30 staff did not feel comfortable working in their school while the county was in the red, or when the number of cases in the school was so high, and preferred to stay out until it was in the yellow.
Rannells said it was her nature to avoid conflict, but she felt her silence might be sending “a false message,” so she had decided to speak out.
She said she was happy for those who have not personally experienced the tragedy of the deadly disease, but she had not been so fortunate. She said she had attended the “pitiful graveside service of a loved one deserving of so much more” and spent weeks trying to have intelligible phone conversations with her stepmother who had suffered strokes while fighting COVID in a rehab center. She also mentioned friends who had lost a husband and father to the disease.
“This is why I have found the actions of so many of our villagers so hurtful,” she said, referencing the African proverb that “it takes a village to raise a child.”
Rannells said she understands the frustration parents feel about distance learning because she is a single mother of a high school freshman in all advanced classes at GRC and a son with severe asthma who must learn at home while she goes to work.
“I get it,” she said repeatedly.
“It’s a jagged, bitter pill to see so many demanding full-time instruction, even during the red period, while not doing their best as a community to prevent the spread,” she said.
Rannells also defended Superintendent Paul Christy, who has sometimes made the difficult decision to close the schools, sometimes against the position of the school board.
“I feel like sometimes Mr. Christy takes the brunt of everything here,” she said, but since he has nothing to gain from going against the board, the only reason she can come up with is that he cares about the health and safety of his staff and students.
Erin Newton, a teacher at GRC and member of Christy’s coronavirus task force, mentioned that the school district failed to follow the task force’s recommendation when it returned students to classrooms before there had been a three-week decrease in the number of COVID cases.
Newton said she understands the reasons some want to return to in-person instruction.
“However, the health and wellbeing of our students, staff and loved ones must take precedence over everything else. Human life must always come first,” she said. “We are all being forced to make incredible sacrifices, so we must remember we are very much in the middle of a global pandemic that is very quickly overrunning our country and our state.”
Until everyone “respects the nature of this terrible disease and does all they can to prevent additional spread,” she said, the return to “some sense of normalcy” will remain uncertain.