A few Indiana school districts returned to in-person learning Wednesday for the first time since the start of the pandemic and some teachers say, despite precautions, it may not be enough to keep them and their students safe from COVID-19.
Concerns are immediate at Avon Community Schools, which reopened to in-person learning Wednesday. Hendricks County, where the district is located, has seen an average positive test rate at or above 5 percent since early July.
Suzy Lebo is a computer science teacher in the district’s high school and the president of the Avon Federation of Teachers. She said COVID-19 infections are too high to reopen schools, and the inability for some classes to maintain physical distance guidelines could make things worse. For instance, in her own classroom, students have to sit about a foot apart to use computers.
“I’m fearful for any student to get sick, any teacher to get sick, any cafeteria worker, any custodian, anybody,” Lebo said. “That’s my biggest fear – and we don’t know what’s going to happen when you do get sick.”
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Her school system posted an open letter that included an endorsement from the county’s health officer. It said safety plans requiring masks and constant sanitization will keep staff and students safe, but it will continue to review data.
Meanwhile, the American Federation of Teachers announced Tuesday it would support teacher strikes as a last resort if schools don’t distance students, update ventilation systems and ignore increasing virus infections.
Sally Sloan, executive director of AFT Indiana, said that hasn’t been discussed in Indiana chapters. Instead, they have supplied local union leaders with a letter to share with districts that urges them to prioritize the health of teacher and students when considering the start of the school year.
However, she said some teachers with health issues or nearing retirement have talked about leaving education if they don’t feel safe.
“Yes, there are a lot of teachers that are really concerned,” Sloan said. “Will they not return to school? I’m not really sure.”
David Beckham, an art teacher in Highland, said not every teacher is as worried. While he isn't discounting their concerns – especially for his colleagues who are older or have pre-existing health conditions – he and others are looking forward to getting back in the classroom.
“I certainly understand those people that have concerns, but I’m afraid teachers are coming across as people who don’t want to get back to work,” he said.