SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — Choosing between online or in-person learning is a difficult decision facing parents in the middle of a pandemic.
But for a lot of teachers, the choice is really pretty simple: they’re ready to tap the brakes.
“We can not do this work from the grave because it appears that’s what you’re trying to do; you’re trying to bury us,” Memphis-Shelby County Education Association President Keith Williams said.
Many teachers are afraid about trying to survive a semester during a pandemic.
“Academics is great, and it will happen, but safety is the first concern because none of us will benefit from a death,” Williams said.
Williams has been advocating for Memphis and Shelby County teachers inside and out of the classroom for 44 years.
“They have obviously not heard from, listened to or sought the advice of teachers in these schools,” Williams said.
He hopes the district is listening now.
“So why would you want to risk the lives of children, of teachers in these school buildings with this pandemic?” Williams said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
“I’ve talked with so many educators over the last couple of days, and there is a real amount of fear,” said Erica Jones, who’s been teaching for 19 years and represents the Mississippi Association of Educators. “Many of our educators are of an older age, and some of them have underlying health conditions, and so that’s a concern of going back into the school building.”
Others have small children or older parents and worry about bringing the virus home.
“Ive spoken with several educators who are looking at doing an early retirement because they’re so afraid of returning to the school buildings, and they just don’t want to jeopardize their own health,” Jones said.
If they are going back, teachers want a more detailed plan in place.
“That plan should include PPE information, schedules that might be important to students such as the restroom schedule, how and when they’re going to eat lunch, how and when they’re going to dismiss for the afternoon, how and when they’re going to receive students in the morning,” Jones said.
“We need to know exactly what we’re getting into,” Williams said. “We do not want teachers in these buildings practicing medicine. We do not want them to have to quarantine children. We do not want them to have to take temperatures. Nothing that is related, remotely related to COVID.”
He and other teachers believe it makes far more sense to start back online.
“To take it very slow and cautiously and to do it virtually, online for everyone and to come back when you can—when it is safe,” Williams said.
They would prefer not to rely on an arbitrary or traditional start date, and instead rely on science, saying an education is of little value if you can’t survive it.
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