The Kanawha County Board of Education voted 3-2 to send students back to school five days a week, skipping the second week of hybrid classes. Two weeks of hybrid learning was settled on by teaching professionals and community members as a waiting period to assess the spread of the virus in schools, and to give the school system a necessary adjustment period to learn to manage procedures for handling the virus.
To paraphrase board member Ryan White, the change was made because we all just have to “learn to live” with COVID-19. He stated that the continuation of online learning is too difficult, and even impossible, for many of our families.
I agree with Mr. White. Online learning is difficult — both in delivery and reception. In the best cases, teachers, adept with technology and online classroom management, have found ways to engage self-motivated students from behind the glass. But this scenario requires experienced teachers trained in education technology and technology management and students who are self-motivated or parents who can sit with their children throughout the day to supervise their engagement.
It also requires working technological devices and working internet connections. It assumes a lack of barriers and it requires a privilege that so many in this state are not afforded.
However, sending students back to school five days a week in Kanawha County is not “learning to live” with anything. Take it from a teacher.
Learning implies that we, as a community, have observed and understood how the virus spreads, and that we apply those lessons to our actions. It is not having 25 children — or more — in classrooms with desks that can barely be spread a foot-and-a-half apart. It is not having faulty HVACs that are known to shut off for long periods of time, with no mitigation efforts, such as filters in every room to clean the air. It is not crowded hallways full of children who can’t socially distance, despite their best efforts.
Learning to live with COVID-19 is putting into place smart regulations that help all of us go back to work and school. It is requiring in-person learners to have their temperatures taken at the door. It is ensuring that students who are sick do not come into the building. It is mandatory COVID-19 testing of children who demonstrate symptoms with non-invasive, rapid results tests, and it is the timely reporting of these cases to the local health department in order to quickly alert affected schools.
It is regular random testing of students and staff in all public-school buildings who choose in-person learning. It is installing hand-washing stations and stocking school buildings with enough soap and paper towels so that little hands stay clean throughout the day.
It is providing time, money, space and personnel to make this work, and not expecting already overtaxed school employees to string together these extra efforts on whatever non-existent time is left.
Do I want my children and my students back in school? Absolutely. I want these children to be together with their teachers and their friends and to be in class. What takes me hours to prepare online takes me only minutes to produce organically in the classroom. I don’t want to battle a faulty internet connection to communicate during a class discussion.
I love my students, and I respect the families and the community that I work with. I know that giving you my all as a teacher is the part I can play during this time, and I am committed to my students. I also have a family of my own, and I know that their teachers, principals and building staff are equally committed to them.
Ultimately, I want school buildings to remain open and safe, with the necessary precautions in place to stem the tide of this virus. I do not want the hasty reopening of our schools just so that we can see them shut again, only this time because our staff and students are sick.
Allocating the proper resources to protect our children and listening to the voices of the professionals that care for them will reopen our schools and get our children and our communities back to business.
If our leaders can do that, then they have mastered this lesson.
Katie Redd is a Charleston resident and teacher at George Washington High School. She taught at Herbert Hoover High School from 2014-18.