It’s been months since most schoolchildren across the country have seen the inside of a school, since almost every school in the U.S. has been closed since the coronavirus pandemic exploded. And with the summer now halfway over, school officials are looking to the fall, and are grappling with the question of whether to reopen when the traditional fall school calendar resumes in a few weeks, or continue to leave kids at home and rely on homeschooling and distance learning as much as possible.
In Florida, that decision has already been made. As NPR News reported this week, the state’s education commissioner, Richard Corcoran, has declared that all schools must reopen in August for in-person education, five days per week.
However, some teachers in The Sunshine State are concerned about how that order will play out.
Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association, says that teachers there will be largely playing it by ear.
“We’ve been given no guidance. We’ve been given no regulations that make sense to reopen our schools, and in the middle of a pandemic, we’re being told we have to reopen schools come hell or high water,” he said.
Elementary teacher Tracy Merlin says that some teachers are so concerned about having to work in classrooms that they’re trying to plan for end-of-life decisions.
“This morning, when I was l looking on social media, teachers were posting, ‘Where can I get a living will?’ Not what are we going to do for science this year or social studies. ‘Who is a person that I can reach out to for living will?’ That is completely unacceptable,” Merlin said.
However, advocates for children’s health say that keeping them out of school brings with it its own set of challenges. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently wrote that the closure of schools earlier this year has had well-documented negative impacts on the kids. Those include social isolation as well as being away from adults who can spot and respond to signs of sexual or physical abuse, psychological issues, or neglect.
National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia understands the concerns about the children’s mental health. But she says that those concerns must be weighed against concerns about their physical health.
“This is a virus that kills people,” she said.