‘We’re Not Controlling It in Our Schools’: Covid Safety Lapses Abound Across US

Yves here. The lack of any serious, concerted action to combat Covid transmission in schools is another example of how America has become a “can’t do” society. Evidence is mounting that teachers and other school employees are correct in seeing health risk in continuing to show up at work:

Nevertheless, if you try searching on Google, the first page results (at least in the query variants I’ve tried) overwhelmingly come up with links claiming the reverse.1

A big factor in this home-brew failure is that demonization of public schools and teacher has been even more intense than demonization of government generally, even though the relative pay and social standing of teachers is a strong predictor of educational outcomes in international comparisons. And God forbid if a teacher or a school official tries disciplining a child in a middle income or higher district. So measures that ought to be simple to implement, like “no mask, no attendance” have become bizarrely insurmountable, even if you were to get past the problem of considerable public opposition in big swathes of the country.

By contrast:

Note not just the masks but also the ceiling fans. Only recently has the CDC started to recommend running them as beneficial.

By Laura Ungar, Kaiser Health News Midwest Editor/Correspondent, who has been a journalist for nearly three decades, including for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal, USA Today, the Hartford Courant in Connecticut and The News Journal in Delaware. Originally published at Kaiser Health News

Computer science teacher Suzy Lebo saw Covid-19 dangers frequently in her Indiana high school: classes with about 30 students sitting less than 18 inches apart. Students crowding teachers in hallways. Students and staff members taking off their masks around others.

“I’m concerned,” said Lebo, who teaches at Avon High School in the Indianapolis suburbs. “We’re not controlling the virus in our county. We’re not controlling it in our state. And we’re not controlling it in our schools.”

President Joe Biden’s Covid response proposes $130 billion to improve school safety, offers federal guidance for making schools safer and improves workplace protections to safeguard teachers and other workers from Covid.

Susanne Michael, a fourth grade teacher in northeastern Arkansas, found it nearly impossible to keep her 20-plus students 6 feet apart amid the pandemic. She succumbed to the virus on Oct 1. “She tried the best she could,” says her husband, Keith. The family vacationed in Pensacola, Florida, in July 2020 (from left): Holly, Keith, Jessica, Hunter, Sara (holding Houston) and Susanne. (Keith Michael)

This comes after many school districts and states holding in-person classes have ignored recommendations from public health officials or written their own questionable safety rules — creating a tinderbox where Covid can sicken and kill.

A KHN analysis of federal and state Occupational Safety and Health Administration data found more than 780 Covid-related complaints covering more than 2,000 public and private K-12 schools. But those pleas for help likely represent only a small portion of the problems, because a federal loophole prevents public school employees from lodging them in 24 states without their own OSHA agencies or federally approved programs for local and state employees. Still, the complaints filed provide a window into the safety lapses: Employees reported sick children coming to school, maskless students and teachers less than 6 feet apart, and administrators minimizing the dangers of the virus and punishing teachers who spoke out.

KHN also found that practices contradicting safety experts’ advice are codified into the patchwork of Covid rules put out by states and districts. For instance, about half of states don’t require masks for all students — including 11 that have exempted schoolchildren of various ages from mandatory masks, with New Hampshire excluding all K-12 students. Districts can craft stricter rules than their states but often don’t.

“The response to the virus has been politicized,” said Dr. Chandy John, an expert in pediatric infectious diseases at the Indiana University School of Medicine. “There’s a willingness to ignore data and facts and go with whatever you’re hearing from the internet or from political leaders who don’t have any scientific knowledge.”

But even with Biden’s rollout of new school safety steps, struggles over balancing the need for education with Covid safety are sure to continue, since it will be months before the nationwide vaccine rollout reaches all school staff members, and the shots haven’t yet been approved for kids.

Meanwhile, the scope of Covid in schools remains unknown. Biden’s order calls for tracking it on the federal level, which wasn’t happening. States haven’t collected uniform data either. The Covid Monitor, a project launched by volunteers and public health researchers, has counted more than 505,000 cases in K-12 schools — more than a quarter of them among staffers. Although kids are less likely than adults to become seriously ill, recent research suggests they can spread the virus even if asymptomatic. The American Federation of Teachers estimates Covid-19 has killed at least 325 school employees, though it’s unclear whether they caught it at school.

Among them was Susanne Michael, 47, a fourth grade teacher at Harrisburg Elementary School in northeastern Arkansas. As a cancer survivor with diabetes, she rarely went anywhere outside her home this past fall, according to her husband, Keith. She told him she worried about catching the coronavirus while teaching, but she “went and did it because she loved it.”

She tried her best to keep more than 20 students 6 feet apart, he said, but told him it was nearly impossible.

Though she always wore a mask, he doesn’t know if every student did. According to the district’s website, masks are required in grades 4-12 “when social distancing is not feasible,” and “physical distancing will be practiced to the extent practical.” District leaders did not respond to requests for comment.

Michael wound up hospitalized on a ventilator. Doctors let her husband visit in protective gear because he, too, had the virus. He held her hand as she slipped away Oct. 1.

The loss hits him hardest at night. “For 27 years, I always had somebody there next to me,” he said. “It’s difficult and weighs on your mind and heart a lot when you’re laying there in an empty bed and your best friend’s gone.”

She left five children, ages 3 to 22, including a former student and her two siblings adopted in July.

A Litany of Lapses

Doctors said Covid risks can be drastically reduced by following straightforward safety practices.

“First and foremost, mask mandate, mask mandate, mask mandate,” said Dr. Jason Newland, a pediatrics and infectious diseases professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

But school employees across the nation complain such measures don’t exist or aren’t enforced.

“School officials openly scoff at Covid-19 and believe it is a hoax. This attitude trickles down to staff, so hardly anyone has been wearing their mask or wearing it correctly,” an unidentified employee of Hart Public Schools, in rural western Michigan, wrote in an OSHA complaint in September. The complaint also described large crowds of students sitting too close in cafeterias. The employee alleges being terminated for whistleblowing.

Hart Superintendent Mark Platt said in an email that he won’t comment on personnel matters, but “takes seriously its health and safety protocols for students and staff.” The district’s Covid preparedness and response plan requires staffers and older students to wear masks in classrooms, common areas and buses, while K-5 students must wear them everywhere except in their own classrooms with their own class.

At the public Avon Community School Corp. in Indiana, Lebo said, problems festered since the beginning of the fall semester in July, when an OSHA complaint was lodged. In addition to crowding in the halls and difficulty keeping students 6 feet apart in classrooms, Lebo said, the school’s many extracurricular activities — including football, wrestling and show choir — brought their own risks.

Avon schools spokesperson Kevin Carr wouldn’t comment except to say students and staff members have tried their best to abide by the district’s health and safety protocols.

Over the semester ending in December, Avon schools reported 346 Covid cases among nearly 9,800 in-person students and staffers, a rate of 3.5% compared with 2.1% for 1,412 remote learners. The Covid rate reached 5.5% at the high school, which went remote briefly in the fall after the number of people quarantining skyrocketed.

Like the vast majority of school OSHA complaints, the one about Avon was closed without an inspection. Across all industries, research shows, just a small percentage of pandemic-related complaints have led to inspections or fines.

A Biden executive order on worker safety calls for OSHA to bolster enforcement and work with states and local governments to ensure workers, including those in the public sector, are protected from Covid.

Without strong laws, “workers are facing big challenges: Do I speak up? Do I show up to work?” said Rebecca Reindel, director of occupational safety and health for the AFL-CIO. “They’re making a decision between needing a paycheck and risking bringing the virus home.”

Varied, Questionable Guidance

That decision gets even harder when potentially unsafe practices are written into official recommendations.

Missouri and Iowa, for example, advise that students exposed to Covid don’t need to be quarantined as long as infected and exposed children are both wearing masks correctly — which goes against Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advice to quarantine anyone who has had close contact with a person who has the virus.

Some districts in South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida and Nebraska — with green lights from the Trump administration and their states — classified teachers as “critical infrastructure workers,” allowing them to keep working after exposure if they don’t develop symptoms.

A superintendent in Billings, Montana, told administrators in October to “disrupt the 15-minute timeline” required to be deemed a close contact “through movement, distancing or masking.” Following media reports, he issued a statement saying he hadn’t intended to “game the system” and no one should move students to avoid quarantines.

In many communities, mask rules are lax.

In Missouri, where there’s no statewide mask rule, Ozark School District requires them only “when social distancing is not an option,” according to its website, which describes spacing desks and using barriers to give people a “break” from masks.

Lakeland Joint School District in Idaho recommends masks when physical distancing isn’t possible. Dacia Chaffee, parent of an eighth grader and a high school freshman in the district, said “it’s almost like normal,” with few students wearing masks. Her kids don’t either, she said; they don’t want to stand out.

Public health experts said making schools safer will require clear, consistent data and guidance — and political will. They said governments also need to give public schools enough resources to keep more than 50 million students and 3.2 million teachers safe. A recent CDC report estimated that the cost of Covid mitigation measures for the 2020-21 school year ranges from $55 per student for items such as masks, plexiglass barriers and face shields to $442 per student with added custodians and transportation, such as buses and drivers, to allow for better physical distancing.

And crucially, experts said, Covid policies for schools must be rooted in science, not politics.

“Behaviors and attitudes flow from the top down,” said Dr. Mark Schleiss, a pediatrics professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School. “We have to hold people accountable. This is a life-and-death situation.”


1 I wonder if I’m getting such crap results because I’m in Alabama and Google presumes I must be a Trump-voting Covid denialist. In any event, search results like this undercut Google (and Facebook and Twitter) claims of being capable of judging content.

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  1. jr

    Anecdote: Family friends, conservative Fox viewers from South Carolina, were complaining about the local teacher’s unions fighting the way COVID is being handled in their districts. It wasn’t clear exactly what form that resistance took but it was for maintaining all or partial Zoom attendance. I was told that everyone knows kids don’t transmit it so why are those unions making such a fuss?

  2. Taurus

    I tried searching for “do kids transmit COVID” to see what I get in New Hampshire. All of the links said “yes’. About two thirds of them were of the “yes, but …[not very much]” variety. There was no outright denial, but the “but …” thing did create the impression that the teachers complain too much. Obviously, not true – the teachers simply don’t want to die before their time. Sununu here in New Hampshire is a proud example of the “the schools are safe” line of thinking. Which is mostly true for the children but much less so for the teachers.

    1. Kilgore Trout

      Sununu has resisted calls to move teachers up in priority for Covid vaccines as well. In his weekly press conferences on the pandemic in NH, he can barely disguise his disdain for public school teachers reluctant to return to fully open schools. His disdain for public schools was reflected also in his choice of education commissioner–Frank Edelblut–a wealthy businessman who homeschooled his own children, sits on the board of Liberty University, and has been a long-time advocate for private charter schools. He was instrumental in NH’s receiving millions from the Feds for additional charter schools. He’s NH’s version of Betsy DeVos.

  3. taunger

    Liberal Amherst MA parents are up in arms their kids are doing remote per the local positivity metrics boundary negotiated by the union and school board, and have demanded revisions to the agreement, to no avail, thankfully.

    Schools are not hot spots is a common argument deployed.

  4. SE

    I don’t know if your crap results are because Alabama, but the same crap results show up in Virginia. I was just noticing this yesterday after I (without meaning to) reduced a friend to tears by trying to explain that what she was reading in the internet about her two year olds ability to contract and transmit the virus was crap science pushed by economists. After she had to get off the phone due to her distress, I searched the topic to see what she would see if she tried to casually verify what I was saying. I concluded she would decided that I crazy based on the bad science under the mantle of reason that was all over the internet search.

    My partner suggested is that Brown University, whose econ department is making hay off child transmission misinformation is, probably also investing a lot in SEO.

    1. anonymous

      Emily Oster of Brown became the go-to person on school openings, as she was making recommendations that were supposedly data-driven. Recently, on Jan 5 in Nature, she wrote, “It’s unclear when many US schools should reopen for in-person learning. Tragically, the country still lacks data that show what’s safe” (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-03647-w), but, back in the fall, she had declared that it was possible to open schools safely, and she was widely quoted. 
      The Atlantic, 10/9: “Schools do not, in fact, appear to be major spreaders of COVID-19.” https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/10/schools-arent-superspreaders/616669 This includes links to her data.
      WaPo 11/20: “…as the country grapples with how to educate kids while also curbing the coronavirus, the emphasis on transmission in schools may be misplaced. The best available data suggests that infection rates in schools simply mirror the prevalence of covid-19 in the surrounding community” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/11/20/covid-19-schools-data-reopening-safety/ The headline was “Schools are not spreading Covid-19. This new data explains why.” but the piece was more nuanced.
      About the Oster school dashboard, Dec 3: https://www.brown.edu/academics/population-studies/news/article/2020/covid-19-school-response-dashboard-equips-parents-teachers-and-policymakers-0
      You’ll also find her interviewed on NPR, Boston Public Radio, and UCSF grand rounds Dec 3 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgceROGONgE&t=4129s).

      This article, https://hechingerreport.org/two-new-studies-point-to-virus-thresholds-for-in-person-school/, has two studies, one country-wide from Tulane, looking for a correlation between hospitalizations and fall school reopenings, and concluding that a rough guide to school safety would be 36-44 hospitalizations per 100,000 as a cut off, and a Michigan and Washington state study that showed that, at low levels of prevalence, once other factors such as mask-wearing were accounted for, school reopenings did not increase Covid cases, but in-person school (still not full capacity) exacerbated community spread once Covid rates exceeded certain thresholds, which were 5 cases in Washington or 21 cases in Michigan per 100,000 people.

      Also in that article: ‘Coming to a consensus on school openings isn’t easy. In November 2020, Brown University economist Emily Oster made a quantitative argument that there weren’t signs of COVID-19 outbreaks inside schools and that schools should remain open or reopen. But Oster’s data comes from schools that had voluntarily agreed to share data with her. Schools with outbreaks might not be keen to share that information. Both of the newer studies take advantage of administrative public health data that is less biased. When I asked Oster her reaction to the latest research, she pointed out that both studies found that in-person school generally didn’t make the pandemic worse until you got to the edges of the data, where statisticians can reasonably argue about interpretations. Oster remains unconvinced that there are thresholds or tipping points above which it’s unsafe to operate schools. “I think it is never a good idea to say there’s some number like 12, or 15, or 45, above which is dangerous and below which is perfectly safe,” said Oster. “I think it certainly is possible, and probably likely, that as the rates go up more, it becomes more difficult to keep schools open. That may be because we worry about spread, and maybe because of staffing, and maybe for a bunch of reasons.”’

      In my news sources, Oster has been the most widely quoted on school reopenings, and, once the idea that schools can open safely took hold, it has become impossible to kill. Schools can theoretically open safely if many precautions are taken, including marked reduction in density. I know people with children in private schools that are doing well, with half days, strict measures to prevent breaching of distancing in the hall, when using the toilet, while eating, etc., and, of course, masks and improved ventilation. Meaures such as allowing only one student in the bathroom at a time, or parent pick-ups with students called out one at a time by name to prevent any crowding when exiting the building (parents drive up in front of the school with a name sign in the windshield), or lunch breaks with many different time slots to allow no more than a very few children unmasked at a time in a large room, are burdensome and require generous space. That is not realistic for many public schools with limited resources.

      BTW, Oster, the child of two Yale economists, in 2005 published a dissertation for her economics Ph.D. from Harvard suggesting that the high rate of males to females in China was due partly to hepatitis B, and then was lauded for her integrity in walking it back in 2008 when new data showed that her old research was incorrect. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Oster

  5. jackiebass 63

    In class instruction is very important. So is the health and safety of children and society.I’m a retired teacher of 35 years in public schools. To have in school instruction done in a safe manner is very expensive.My experience is that decision makers won’t provide the necessary funds. We have a society where cost is the number one factor. It trumps all other things. We don’t understand that sometimes saving a dollar can cost you 100 dollars. Probably the cost now and in the future of caring for people infected by covid is many times more than the cost of providing a safe educational experience.

    1. campbeln

      FWIW, our son is excelling at distance because the distractions are less and he can work at his own pace. While gifted (the school’s determination, not just mom and dad’s) he’s socially immature among his own age group. +/-2 years? Here’s great, but his age…

      Anyway, while we’re under no disillusion that he will magically improve his social immaturity without work, the scholastic issues are fully resolved and he’s accelerating his learning.

      He’s also not the only one to benefit from distance learning that we know due to similar reduction is social stressors.

      At this point, we are seriously considering keeping him distance for the rest of his K-12 education.

  6. Bib

    Regarding how “search” is local specific. I subscribe to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that gives me the option of connecting to internet via internet servers in many other countries other than the USA. As a result of connecting to an internet server in Singapore for instance, my Google search page for local news is from Singapore. Connect to a Swedish server, Swedish local news. Do a search even with Google and I get search results based on the country internet server. The ability to do this has demonstrated over and over again that what you read and find with search is totally dependent on what others in that locality find. How the USA is viewed from Sweden or Singapore or anywhere else you connect to is a sobering experience. The reverse also applies. There have been many in the USA that point to Sweden’s “wide open” way of dealing with the virus as the shining example of higher thought processes. If you connect to a Swedish internet server via a VPN what you find is the “wide open” is anything but wide open. It comes as no surprise to me that when connected to a USA internet server you only read the “approved” narrative. I am under no illusion that what I read connected to other countries internets is without their own slant on the news. The simple fact that what you read connected to a USA internet server is not necessarily the whole truth and nothing but the truth is a very sobering experience. Simple example with the actual Swedish method of dealing with people over 65 who have the virus and who have a secondary medical issue such as diabetes – they are refused admittance to a hospital and at best get palliative care and are left to die. So is this what those in the USA who trumpet the Swedish example of “OPEN” want? Willful ignorance is rampant and encouraged daily.

  7. Jack

    The capacity for ignorance of my fellow human beings never ceases to amaze me. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) just released data that the number of Covid infections in children just reached a record; 211,000 in the week ending January 14. So much for kids not being able to transmit Covid. AAP data records over 2.5 million kids having tested positive since the onset of the pandemic. Here is SC if you look at the Covid data on the state DHEC website it is pretty clear that the young people are transmitting the virus and the older people are dying from it.

  8. Charger01

    This article hits the problem square on ththe nose. Given the uncertain nature of employees exposure to the virus, school districts have bent to the political winds and are risking their staff and the kids they serve. For kids, its largely not understood how their lives could be impacted because the knowledge of the detrimental effects aren’t known. For staff, the paycheck is critical for survival. I think the stat that 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck without $1000 in reserve for an emergency is quite real. No other country has left its citizens without material support as much as the ‘states during 2020-2021. This same dynamic holds true for parents as well, as their entire employment structure is situated with delivering the kids to school so they have their 40hrs to work. Its incredibly frustrating that a totally foreseeable crisis has revealed how hollow and fragile our society truly is. Not much between the people and total ruin by the capricious and fickle finger of fate when a single exposure mistake (like hugging your kids) can kill you.

    What a wicked world.

  9. Nancy Boyd

    The measure that would help contain covid in schools is the same measure that would most improve education: drastically smaller schools, drastically reduced class sizes, to something like no more than 12.

    But that would mean dismantling factory-schooling, where 1000-5000 students are processed each year.

  10. Cas

    CA has teachers in the essential workers list to get the vaccine first. Of course having well-ventilated classrooms and students masked and distancing is necessary (and testing, but that seems to be a pipe dream), so inoculating the teachers is a do-able solution to allow in-class teaching. The teachers are the ones at most serious risk.

  11. JohnMc

    “mask mandate, mask mandate, mask mandate”

    this single-minded focus on efforts to control transmission seems misguided and ineffective. a year into this and i’m continually surprised at the number of people who are unaware of the likely impact of vitamin D deficiency and other factors that impair proper immune system function.

    1. Code Name D

      But masks are not a magic bullet. It’s It playing the odds. Masks are the most effective with short exposure. But six hours in a confined classroom with poor ventalasion, then another 2 hour bus ride, mask effectivness drops to near zero. Even worse without distencing. Throw in lunch and breckfast where masks can’t be warn, and you have a super spreader even with precautions.

      Then you have school consolidation with massive student and faculty populations. When a mega school gets contaminated, the virus spreads to nearby towns hundreds of miles away, that would otherwise be isolated.

      As long as the factory/schools remain open, we will never get control over the virus.

      I don’t have any proof, but I am hearing roomers that schools are facing breach-of-contract lawsuits for shutdowns. This would explane why they arn’t staying closed, if true. Can anyone add?

    2. urdsama

      Why is this effort misguided?

      Masks are the primary line of defense, for reasons that have been covered again and again. Yes, vitamins and overall good health practices are important, but to cast aspersions on masks and their importance is unhelpful and plays into the hands of COVID-19 deniers.

  12. polar donkey

    I have 2 children in elementary school in Mississippi. Got an email stating my child was in class with another child who tested positive for covid. Email said watch my child for next 14 days and take temperature twice a day. Problem is, which child and from what start date. Email didn’t say.
    Around here, there is a wide variance in safety protocol compliance. My childrens’ school is much more strict about every student and faculty member wearing a mask at all times and trying to keep kids as socially distanced as possible. Down the road at another elementary school, not so much and they have had higher rates. That school is higher income and less diverse. They know covid is real, but don’t care. Their mindset is everyone will get it and a few may have a bad experience or die but oh well that’s life. Now these are pretty much the same people that stripped the Walmart bare the weekend before the inauguration because they got a text from a family member saying there will be martial law for two weeks. (I got one that said that.) The Target in same town didn’t have same experience. When the new strain gets here in March/April, in will burn through the population that hasn’t gotten covid yet or been vaccinated. The country is so polarized between team red/blue, I don’t know how we get through this any better than we have so far.

  13. lordkoos

    Seattle is getting ready to open public schools again soon, the son of a friend is an elementary school music teacher in Kenmore (a northern suburb) and somewhat germaphobic to begin with, needless to say he’s extremely anxious about this. He’s in his early 30s so hopefully will not become ill but he lives with his mother who is 68… she’s the one who should be worried.

    I have another friend locally who is retired but works part time as a school bus driver, he should also be very worried.

  14. Suzanne Irving

    i thought i would remark on children spreading the virus in school I live in new brunswick canada on the east coast and must add that we are controlling the virus very well here .Although we have some outbreaks going on right now i know we will get it in check pretty soon as we have done multiple times since the beginning of the pandemic.the school policy here is that all children are bubbled with their classmates.no mingling with other classes .most children go to school evey day but high school students go every other day,Most chlidren wear masks as well as the teacher.Younger children when in the yellow phase may not always be required. when a student or staff tests posiive ,that whole group is sent home to isolate for two weeks.there has not been transmission from student to student as of yet.This does not mean that theres not a lot of anxiety ,but so far so good .The premier and public health have done a wonderful job here as well as the other maritime provinces.It requires a lot of trust from the public ,and honest and constant information .

  15. David in Santa Cruz

    Yesterday CalSTRS, the California teachers retirement system, announced that teacher retirements jumped by 34 percent in the past 12 month period. Survey results cited remote-learning burnout and fear of being forced back into unsafe classrooms as the top reasons. CalPERS retirement rates for non-teacher public employees remained stable for the same period.

    Because the children!

  16. chris

    I love how we’re casually glossing over what a nightmare this is for kids and parents. Virtual education as has been implemented does not work without parents at home full time to facilitate it, and additional resources schools aren’t providing the students, and lots of training for teachers, and reliable broadband/wifi in the community. Even then, the emotional aspect of being isolated and lack of other activities outside the home is hurting kids. Re-opening schools can be done safely, that’s why the AAP is advocating for bringing students back to in-class education. I know that with cooperation from kids, parents, and teachers, we can make something better than the current situation happen before the end of the year. It won’t be ideal, but even hybrid is better than what we’ve got now.

    We are seeing local teachers and their unions asking for incredible things while using the kids as leverage. They’re asking to stay remote until 2022 or later, whenever all students can be vaccinated too. They’re also asking for funds to limit class sizes to 10 students in perpetuity. In Maryland teachers have been bumped up in the vaccine schedule but many still won’t take the vaccine and if they receive the vaccine won’t agree to return to school. They won’t even agree to return to the buildings without students to begin planning or even teaching from classrooms. Topping all that off, they don’t want to learn how to use the tech we’re using to teach virtually either, and push a lot of those requirements back onto working parents.

    I don’t know what will happen next but I’m glad our governor gave all the education Associations a kick in the a$$ last week and told them to get back to school as soon as possible or else. We were on path to never even making a plan to return before that. I’m really quite tired of hearing teachers tell people how they’ve reinvented their jobs over the last year because they’re being forced to use tech most other people have taken for granted for 10 years. I’m tired of hearing how hard they’re working when they literally can’t do anything without me working hard to help them. I’m tired of hearing how there is no definition of safe that a teacher will accept and that they are entitled to protections that even OSHA does not guarantee in the workplace. If so many teachers think they’re high risk and can’t go back in this environment, fine. Retire, resign, take leave, do whatever you have to and be safe. But stop preventing anyone from moving forward and trying to work through this awful situation.

      1. chris

        No. I don’t want people to retire. But I also don’t want people to be forced to work in conditions they feel are unsafe. So if they feel that they can’t be safe even in schools where we’ll be enforcing masks, have upgraded ventilation systems, can open windows, and will be requiring social while also going to a hybrid schedule to reduce daily exposure to children, then so be it. I wish them well in the next part of their career. There are lots of other people who would be happy to have the job.

        1. richard

          a nightmare is susanne michael’s story and her death by capitalism. that’s a nightmare chris. What you are describing is profound inconvenience, at worst.
          To ask anyone to risk their lives for a series of annoyances that you’re “tired of” is a truly noteworthy achievement of chutzpah and privilege. Well done.

        2. Baldanders

          Schools were having terrible problems filling positions before the pandemic. Now it’s far worse.

          There are very few people who can qualify for a teaching job and want one who don’t already have a job. In many districts, positions are left unfilled because there are literally no qualified applicants.

          Again, teachers have already left the field in catastrophic numbers this past year. One half of your wish is being fulfilled. It’s just that the other half of your wish isn’t possible right now.

          And if you think the in-person learning happening under covid is in any way comparable with normal in-person learning, it isn’t. Particularly now that most teachers with in-person students also have students who have opted out of coming back, so they have virtual students too. There is a good chance many “in person ” students are simply doing the same online activities as the virtual students, due to time constraints. Teachers don’t have the time to suddenly do twice as much preparation for one class.

          Believe me, most teachers would love to cut out virtual learning. It is FAR more work than traditional learning, particularly with the doubling of the already ridiculous number of checklists teachers are supposed to keep up under normal circumstances. The complaints of parents who think teachers are doing nothing has led to many, many more pointless paperwork exercises for teachers.

          If you are really concerned about the situation, why not chat with one of your student’s teachers about what is happening? If you don’t approach the discussion with the attitude “what is wrong with you,” you may be surprised with the view they share with you.

          OTOH, contacting the school board about every problem you perceive, and never chatting with your kid’s teachers is a great way for you to set yourself up for being “the enemy.” Just my experience.

    1. Big Tap

      Chris couldn’t agree more. There is more than one side to this. Yes schools can be dangerous but not as bad as working at a grocery store. My sister works at one as a cashier and she exchanges money with people who may have the virus and tells me the six feet apart rule is a joke. I have spoken to several woman over the last year frustrated and even angry that they have had to quit jobs in a not great economy to oversee a young child at home for school. They are having a difficult time financially since only the spouse is working and not them. They seem to be forgotten people in this conversation. It’s more than just what the teachers or politicians want.

      1. Code Name D

        Yes schools can be dangerous but not as bad as working at a grocery store.

        And how do you figure that? You have any data to back this up? Because the evidence strongly suggests otherwise. In Kansas, the virus was constrained to the big cities and bed-room satellites. Rural Kansas had few cases because these towns are isolated. Open up the schools, and the virus takes off. And its not like there isn’t a chorus of experts declaring how insane it is to re-open the schools.

        When you go to the grocery store, you may only be exposed to contamination for what, maybe an hour? The risk isn’t zero, but conventional masks greatly reduce the odds of exposure. There also isn’t a requirement that those who are contagious must attend. They have options to self-sequester which reduces the odds of exposure significantly.

        With schools, the odds change significantly. Students may be exposed to contamination for hours on end in a confined space.

        It’s Russian Runlet. Spin the chamber and pull the trigger, there is a one chance in six you catch a bullet. Now do this 20 more times.

        A small school with say 500 students, all from one town might represent a reasonable risk. With regular screening and quarantine, you can improve the odds even more.

        Now balloon the school population to 10,000, from 20 different towns from as far as 150 miles away. That means bussing for as long as an hour, each way. Swell the class size to as large as 30 students with only one teacher to maintain order. Possible ventilation issues that may spread the virus further. Constant exposure for up to ten hours each day? You can put the kids in full hazmat suits, they will still get infected.

        Add on top of that the poor availability of masks, undermining any mask mandate. Even BEFORE we get to the politicization angle. No screening, no quarantines, no testing requirements.

        If you wanted to re-open the schools during a pandemic – then you should never have consolidated them in the first place.

  17. Baldanders

    As someone engaged in covid theater with special needs kids in school right now, I can’t think you enough for this piece!

    My good news/ bad news for today:

    Found out be thermometer guns we use aren’t completely defective, as we spotted a kid with rising temp today (showed up at school w/99 F temp, rose to 100) and got him home.

    However, none of the kids he was with on the bus, aside from his brother, will be quarantined, and his brother has to stay out longer than him. Kid with fever is completely eligible to come back in 8 days, no testing required.

    1. Medbh

      “Kid with fever is completely eligible to come back in 8 days, no testing required.”

      They keep saying that schools aren’t a source of transmission, but how can they know unless they actually test the kids? There was an article posted here not long ago that said around half of the cases are spread by asymptomatic people.

      If kids don’t get symptoms or hospitalized at the same rate as adults, then their testing rate would always be less than the broader community (unless the community was testing for asymptomatic cases).

      The comparison between school/community covid rates also doesn’t take into account that parents may actively avoid having their kids tested even when sick (i.e. to avoid shutting down the school).

      1. chris

        They’ve done some neat studies to ferret out what the likely role of children and young adults are in spreading this virus. Some of the neatest work they’ve done came from Italy where they took the data that came from the massive outbreaks, compared those numbers to Ro and demographics, and backed out what the spread among asymptomatic people and children must have been to make up for the missing numbers. I’ll see if I can find the link.

        My understanding of the research that’s been done says that the data shows a more nuanced view of things than “schools aren’t superspreader sites vs. Schools are sources of community spread.” If a community has high levels of viral infection, the people going to school will also have a high possibility of spreading the virus but they most likely didn’t get it at the school. Also, in comparing the data between areas where schools are still locked down and everyone is being taught remotely to those districts with varying policies of re-opening, there is no real difference in safety for the community. So given the costs of keeping schools closed and the penalties to kids, when you consider remote learning is no safer than in person learning, it’s better to keep schools open. As people have been arguing for a while now, close the bars and open the schools.

        Here’s an updated article using similar techniques.

        1. Baldanders

          The study from North Carolina is a joke. During the period it was done, transmission was very low, and classrooms were barely inhabited. Now transmission is super high, and no school districts are actually doing any testing that I know of. The district I work for now has actually voted NOT to do testing of any kind.

          If you had experience in working in education, you’d understand why teachers have zero faith in districts making good on promises to teachers. Lies in that area are SOP for education. Many promises have already been broken to teachers in the field now.

          BTW, I’m writing from a “right-to-work” state where the union is nearly powerless.

    2. Baldanders

      Expecting an institution that has gotten used to generating BS data for decades to show never ending progress for students in order to “meet targets” to throughly apply a constantly changing set of public health protocols was always a silly idea.

      Education and Law Enforcement have been dealing with impossible, often contradictory edicts from on high for many decades now with the simple method of manufacturing compliance data. Neither is well configured to actually deal with covid realities that can’t be solved by data manipulation due to this “training.”

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