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Teachers are ‘scared’ or feel ‘in danger’ as they ponder return to classroom

School personnel wonder if doing their jobs during an unchecked pandemic is “really worth the risk.”

Students on a school bus.
What’s the point of social distancing at school if kids are jammed aboard a bus coming and going?
Sun-Times file

Printing letters has gone the way of pounding out copy on a manual typewriter. Just as well, it was mostly a summertime strategy for work-averse columnists to dispatch their duties without much effort.

However. My column Monday discussing the wisdom of the Archdiocese of Chicago holding in-person classes during an epidemic drew insights from a number of school personnel.

So I picked three, condensing for space and scrubbing their messages of any track-’em-down-and-fire-’em details that vindictive school administrators — are there any other kind? — could use to go after them.

“I have been a teacher in the Archdiocese of Chicago since [an important sporting event in the 1980s]. I have loved being a teacher for the past 25 years, with a break to raise my own children. My passion as [an elementary school] teacher is to prepare my students for the sacraments. What a gift I have been given!

“As we prepare for the reopening of our Catholic schools, I am scared... All of the public schools in the surrounding suburbs are doing remote learning. We are the only school system reopening in person. This puts faculty, staff and our children in danger.

“My expectations of keeping my students safe involves taking temperatures before the students even leave their cars. I am not a nurse. I am a teacher. I daily put myself in harm’s way if a shooter enters my classroom. Now I am being expected to put myself in harm’s way with a known assailant, COVID 19.

“Without a union, I feel voices of Catholic school teachers are unheard. Many of us are scared. I am scared for myself, my coworkers and the children and families I love. I pray the Archdiocese changes their in person plan before we see sick teachers and children, or lives lost.“

This, from a CPS social studies teacher:

“I am befuddled by the school systems that are disregarding the pandemic. It seems the reopeners fall into three groups, people who believe: 1. COVID is not a real crisis, 2. If we just go back to normal everything will go back to normal, or 3. We have no choice, and/or this is an opportunity for us....

“Like you, I tried to prioritize in order to make a decision for myself. People’s lives first. There, that pretty much does it.

“Now I will go back to preparing for the weirdest year of my life as a CPS teacher. I really am not going to like distance learning again. I essentially have to take all of my prior lesson plans and s---can them. But I am grateful that the CPS, for whatever reason, did not decide to put us all in harm’s way for now.”

Has anyone thought about school bus drivers? I hadn’t, until I received this, from a suburban high school District 214 bus driver:

“Outside the building it all goes to Hell. The district decreed no additional transportation is needed per CDC guidelines, there will be 50 people on a bus (driver and 49 students). They say no distancing is necessary for a half hour ride and two to a seat is safe... I pointed out our newer buses with more safety padding have one less row and only seat 47 full-size riders but was told the district says 49 can ride even though they know it’s two seats with three occupants.

“Now here it gets even stickier. Illinois law is “You cannot refuse to transport a student to school.” The ride home is up to the school. The district requires the students and driver to wear a mask but if the student doesn’t have one or refuses to wear one you still have to take that student to school. ( HR advised us we could buy masks on our own to offer the unmasked students). Essentially exposing everyone on the bus if the unmasked is infected. ... The special needs buses make multiple runs and not to the same schools. The drivers are required to spray the disinfectant after every run . The drivers are alarmed since most of those kids have disabilities and medical issues .

“The cleaning agents to be used are not set yet so no one knows what reactions may occur ... drivers start picking routes this afternoon with many of us wondering if it’s really worth the risk?”