As the states in the US are preparing to reopen the schools there is a fear among the parents that this reopening of schools might get them or their children infected with the coronavirus. It’s difficult for the teachers to return to schools as nationally the US has failed in flattening the curve and it will be hard for them to go join their work in a situation where they will most likely be exposed to the disease.
Aaron Fortner, a school teacher in Missoula, Montana, sat on Tuesday night in front of his computer for 4 hours watching a Missoula County Public School’s Board of trustees’ virtual meeting. At the meeting, the citizens voted against starting in-person learning as leaders listened. Fortner was hopeful as out of a total of 50 to 60 people only one supported in-person learning. However, the board decided to support a hybrid model that involves both in-person and online learning, which is to be implemented as the reopening of schools takes place on the 26th of August.
After seeing the decision Fortner’s heart sank as he was blown away by the decision. He said it was a jaw-dropping moment after nearly four hours of public comment. He described it as an avalanche moment for the teacher’s community.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued some guidelines on how the reopening of schools can take place this fall if the cases are low enough. Moreover, the American Academy of Pediatrics has advised the districts to reopen the schools as there could potentially be devastating emotional and social losses for the children if the school didn’t go back to in-person classes.
Fortner and countless other teachers across the country are forced to decide if getting a paycheck for their family is worth it, even if it could mean that he and his family are going to get infected, as he and the other teachers will potentially be in constant exposure to hundreds of students and other teachers.
The decisions of the local board are affecting at least 50 million students in the US, according to the US census data. And according to the National Center for Education Statistics charts there are at least 3.5 million public teachers in the US. 13 out of 15 of the biggest school districts in the US have decided to continue completely online learning as of August 6. Only Missoula County and Hawaii Public Schools have chosen a hybrid model.
Fortner is worried and is trying to figure out how to balance his commitment to his job and the commitment to his family. His school has offered the teachers an option that they can take a leave of absence if they think that teaching in-person is not going to be comfortable in this situation, but for Fortner and many other teachers, this option is financially a nonstarter.
In his mid-40’s and a father of two Fortner is married to a teacher and they have hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay in mortgage and student debt. He said if his hands weren’t tied, he would walk away and believes no teacher can afford to stay home even if they wanted to.