SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio teacher said she recently executed her will and appointed power of attorney ahead of the upcoming academic year due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
The teacher, who works at Northside Independent School District and has nearly 20 years of experience, spoke with KSAT Saturday.
She spoke under the condition of anonymity due to repercussion concerns because the “district’s image is highly controlled” and employees are encouraged not to speak to the media. KSAT has confirmed her employment with NISD.
For the purposed of this article, we have assigned her the fictitious name of “Beth” to help protect her identity.
Beth, who describes herself as an optimistic person, told KSAT that she has had asthma all her life and that she has accepted the fact that she will be spending most of her time in a “potentially dangerous work environment.”
Appointing a power of attorney and executing her will are steps Beth says “will ensure that the objects I treasure are left to the people I love the most,” in addition to not placing extra stress on her family should she die of COVID-19.
It’s a precautionary measure Beth says other teachers she’s talked to about it haven’t taken.
“They often respond with nervous laughter,” Beth said.
So what spurred this decision? Beth told KSAT she doesn’t “feel we have been provided with a comprehensive plan to ensure a reasonable measure of safety.”
She says she doesn’t fault the school system and thinks teachers are doing their best to “tackle a Herculean task no one has ever encountered before.”
Beth, instead, places blame on state and federal leaders “for neglecting to provide adequate funding to school districts to assist in all these necessary upgrades.”
“I have been provided with a detailed checklist of procedures and responsibilities. Safety upgrades are being provided such as handwashing stations, cleaning supplies, and plexiglass in high traffic areas. All teachers and most students will be required to wear masks. These are all good things. However, I know the realities of the school environment, and I know the current data in relation to how COVID-19 is spreading in our community,” she said.
Beth says teachers are currently preparing classrooms for 20-26 students with desks that are spaced 6 feet apart. Teachers, she says, have been given handbooks with details on operational procedures to follow throughout the day.
Guidance from the district also states that teachers should wear PPE daily, social distance and prepare to teach from the classroom while students are learning from home through at least Sept. 7. NISD’s expected start date for online learning is Aug. 24.
“I feel virtual learning can be highly effective if the teacher and students are engaged in live, daily instruction. I’m not a proponent of posting an assignment, and then leaving it to parents and students to figure out,” she said. “I understand that virtual learning is not ideal for every learner, and of course there are the occasional technological hiccups that interrupt instruction.”
While she understands it “may not be an ideal model for all students,” Beth says “for now it is the safest. I believe we can all agree students learn better when they are alive.”
Beth says, despite her concerns, she has not looked into getting a new job. “I feel fortunate to have a job. Much like the other areas in our country, I feel like this could be a real turning point for education.”
She says everyone will be stretched thin this academic year and noted that “it is important for teachers to not compromise their physical or mental health.”
Her suggestions for a potentially safer school year?
“I would suggest grades 9-12 learn virtually. Grades 3-6 could be spread out in high school buildings, and K-2 at their assigned elementary campuses. Each classroom would have two physical rooms so kids could effectively social distance, and all classes could have two teachers to help support the classroom. This may be unrealistic for large districts, though."
Beth also says refraining from contact sports or extracurricular activities until there is a significant decrease in cases is another way to help keep students and teachers safe.
“The pandemic has been traumatic for all of us; especially our students. I believe this year must be approached with patience and grace,” says Beth. “More time must be invested in helping students feel safe, so then their brains will be receptive to learning.”
KSAT asked Beth when she would feel comfortable heading back to the classroom and she says it all has to do with numbers. “When medical professionals and the data, suggest it is safe to return” and the number of positive COVID cases has significantly decreased, that’s when she says she would be most comfortable.
“I keep reminding myself that danger is real, but fear is a choice. It is important to be honest with students about the importance of health and safety practices in preventing this virus,” Beth says. “I worry about the emotional toll this virus will bring when colleagues and students get sick - or worse.”
The biggest takeaway Beth wants people to have from her story is to have empathy for one another. “It is during these turbulent times that significant change happens.”