Teachers Are Afraid to Return to Their Classrooms

by Kerry Dougherty

We all knew this was coming.

In fact, I suggested last month that if you have kids in local public schools you should quickly enroll them in Catholic or other private schools before those filled and your kids would be stuck trying to learn online. (Some of these institutions have scholarships available.)

Most private schools plan to reopen fully this fall with students in class five days a week .

Sadly, it looks like most public school kids will not be so lucky.

All across the country militant teachers’ unions are balking at a return to the classroom. In Fairfax County, teachers groups are saying they don’t want to return to school until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine.

As expected, we learned this week that Norfolk schools are unlikely to offer any classroom instruction, except to “some” kids in the youngest grades. A final decision will come later this month.

Now the Virginia Beach teachers’ association — the VBEA — says most of its members don’t want to go back to school in the fall. They want to continue with distance learning. There’s this, from The Virginian-Pilot:

“The education association that represents some 1,400 teachers in Virginia Beach said on Thursday that it ‘cannot support the opening of schools to face-to-face instruction’ due to rising coronavirus cases in the region.”

…“Kelly Walker, the president of the Virginia Beach Education Association, said she has been bombarded by emails, phone calls and text messages from teachers who are deeply concerned about having to choose between their job and their health. She said a recent survey, conducted by the group between June 8 and July 1, showed nearly one out of three teachers had health concerns for themselves or family members if they had to return to schools for in-person classes this fall.”

“It’s been very overwhelming. Many people are very scared,” she said.

 The Beach school board will decide in two weeks what school will look like this fall.

Odds that the elected representatives will have the courage to stand up to the teachers and reopen schools?


Still, evidence from around the globe piles up, indicating that schools can safely open with little risk of outbreaks. Daycare centers have been operating all along with few problems.

It seems some teachers want “guarantees” that there is no risk. Preposterous. There can never be a risk-free environment. Even the seasonal flu poses health problems for teachers and students every year.

Look, teachers are educated people. They have the ability to read the growing body of reassuring studies. Surely they’ve seen the detailed reports out of Australia, Iceland, Germany and Sweden that showed schools reopening with few problems even when the virus was raging through their communities.

If that didn’t convince them to return to the classroom, surely the strong statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics should have given them the confidence to go back to work:

The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020. Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation. This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality. Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and families…

 The preponderance of evidence indicates that children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease resulting from SARS-CoV-2 infection. In addition, children may be less likely to become infected and to spread infection.

Teachers need to know that an overwhelming majority of experts with actual understanding of viruses told The New York Times this week that they wouldn’t hesitate to send their kids back to school:

“We asked more than 500 epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists when they expect to restart 20 activities of daily life, assuming that the coronavirus pandemic and the public health response to it unfold as they expect. On sending children to school, camp or child care, 70 percent said they would do so either right now, later this summer or in the fall — much sooner than most said they would resume other activities that involved big groups of people gathering indoors.”

Still, educators are afraid. And so local classrooms will likely be empty this fall as parents are forced to juggle jobs with homeschooling — let’s face it, that’s what distance learning is for elementary school kids — and students will continue to suffer from isolation.

Lucky for us that truckers, meat packers, food processors, supermarket employees and agricultural workers weren’t too afraid to work or we’d be dealing with a situation more dire than Covid-19.

We’d be starving.

This column was published with permission from www.kerrydougherty.com.