Back to School: Are You Ready? Will We Have a Choice?

Special / April 30, 2020

– Tom Menella, Jake Habegger, Dan Jones and Peter Santoro –

Back to school is taking on a new meaning in the COVID-19 era. The question school leaders, medical professionals, and political leaders are asking is when? When is the right time? There is no consensus, and we’ve seen no evidence that teachers are involved in the deliberations. What happens is you are required to go back before you feel it’s safe to return? Listen to the discussion or read the transcript below.

 


Panelists:

Jake Habegger is an 8th grade US History Teacher in Franklin, Tennessee. His goal in education is to invigorate student learning by meeting them where they are through the use of technology. Peter Santoro has been teaching high school mathematics for 12 years. In addition to two sections of Introductory Calculus, Peter also teaches one section of Geometry and two sections of Mathematics Research Honors. In addition, he is the coach of the Garden City High School Math Team (Mathletes). Dr. Thomas Mennella has been an instructor in higher education for over ten years. Starting as a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, and then moving on to an Assistant Professorship at Delaware State University (DSU), Tom is now an Associate Professor at Bay Path University, a private liberal arts institution in western Massachusetts. Dan Jones earned a BS in Middle Grades Education from Ashland University and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from American College of Education. Dan is an FLGI Master Teacher whose professional interests include e-learning and technology, as well as Project-Based Learning.

 

Transcript

Dan:

The truth is, at some point, we will be returning to school, whether this year or next. The returned to school will require just as much, if not more planning than the transition to remote learning. With me today are my RTOL teammates, Jake, Peter and Tom. We all live in different States, but each of our states has yet to make the decision to close for the rest of the year. Jake and Tom, I want to ask you guys first since you have kiddos in the school systems. How would you feel about sending your kids back to their schools this year?

Jake:

For me, no way. No way on earth would I be sending my kids back this school year. We’ve been talking with Peter about everything going on in New York where he teaches, and the death toll of this is not going down. It’s only going to be spreading and growing, so there’s no way I would risk doing that in the next month or two sending my daughter back.

Tom:

I’m with Jake. I have the unfortunate science background where I know how viruses work and how reservoir species and hosts work. And so I’m absolutely convinced professionally and personally that this virus is going to re-emerge many, many times in waves, even when we think that we’ve flattened the curve the first time around. So I’m certainly am not going to be even remotely comfortable sending my kids anywhere public before the Fall, before September. And even then, I have to say I’m going to be on pins and needles for quite some time.

Dan:

Peter, being just outside of New York City, what do you think a return to school would actually look like?

Peter:

It would be a scary circumstance if we go back to school before the end of the school year in my opinion. Deaths are still rising in New York as of today. There were actually 20 fewer people that died yesterday than the day before. Only 777 people died yesterday in New York. Where I am, further east of the city, we’re now an epicenter. The death rate is going up. Where I teach further west from where I live. I’m not sure the parents would be comfortable sending their children back to school. Those of us, like myself, a little older with some underlying medical conditions. It would be scary for me personally to have to walk back into a space where there’s a lot of people.

Dan Jones:

Now what would it take for each of you to feel at ease about returning to face to face classroom settings?

Jake:

That is a hard question. I haven’t even thought that far in the future of what’s going to make me really feel okay going back.

Tom:

Again from the science background, I just had this conversation with my father on the phone actually. For me, it would be nothing short of a vaccine or a proven treatment. Knowing that if me or one of my loved ones got this thing, they could recover from it with medical intervention would be the only thing that lets me be comfortable re-entering society so to speak. I agree with Jake and with Peter that this is going to be an issue for the long haul. A societal issue well beyond education. And if treatments are developed, either vaccines or treatments, I think it’s going to have to be rapidly added to the vaccination repertoire when students can’t enroll in public schools until they’ve been vaccinated. This’ll have to be one of those required vaccinations or perhaps families will have to demonstrate that they will have ready access to treatment if their child should happen to become sick. The virus isn’t going anywhere. We just need to have better ways of fighting it when those among us contract it.

Peter:

Yeah. Probably something similar to what Tom said. I was just watching the governor’s press conference and he’s talking about being able to return somewhat to work after there’s been testing and everybody has to get tested. There’s 19 million people in New York and he’s talking about a New York, New Jersey, Connecticut program for all three states. How do you scale up testing? How do you find out who has, who doesn’t have [inaudible 00:05:15] immunity? And all those unknowns together are scary. Absolutely scary until you really know what’s going on.

Dan:

Have any of you heard from your districts regarding a transition back to the classroom?

Tom:

So my university is closed for the rest of the academic year. Commencement has been postponed to an undetermined date. So far of the graduation ceremony has been postponed, and the one thing that we have been directed is to self report any illness or exposure that we may have had as faculty and staff. And to encourage our students to do the same. There’s some kind of health tracking system that they’ve implemented so that they can keep tabs on those who are higher risk of exposure or having this virus. So as far as plans for resumption in the Fall, none that had been shared with us yet. Everything’s still up in the air, but we are shut down for this academic year and they’re certainly being proactive about trying to keep the virus off campus whenever we do resume.

Peter:

In New York, part of the governor’s orders we’re closed until the 29th of April. He seems to be doing it two weeks at a time, so they’ve made no forward projection at all. That’s where we are in New York.

Jake:

We’re in the same boat in Tennessee. We seem to be hearing news every two weeks. Make it another two-week review packet, ship it out the kids and then wait to see what the next move is going to be.

Dan:

There is a growing push around the country to get Americans back to work whether the COVID-19 threat is fully under control or not. This decision will impact parents who are now at home with their children and will ultimately impact schools and teachers. From your point of view, what should be the primary factors that determine when students and teachers go back to school?

Jake:

I’m echoing what Tom had said before, it really has to do with testing to find out who has it, having something to take care of it if we do have it. I think we need to have those things back in place before… At my school, we have 600 kids all mixed together wandering around because that’s just going to start it all over again. If you think of an average classroom, how are you going to put the kids six feet apart and keep them six feet apart? And even if you did that, they’re all sitting in the same classroom for let’s say an hour at a time.

Peter:

And then passing in the halls. And my school has got 1200 kids. How do you have safe passing in the halls? I think it comes down to a question of what are we putting in more value on, life and saving life and preserving people’s life or on the financial aspect? You have to weigh it and society has to make a decision as to what’s going to be more important in the long run.

Tom:

And it’s also worth pointing out that social distancing treats the symptom of this pandemic, not the cause. It stops people from being infected, but it’s doing nothing to eradicate the virus itself. The data that’s coming out scientifically is that there are many, many people that are completely asymptomatic, yet they’re infected with this virus and they’re capable of spreading it to others. So social distancing is keeping additional people from getting sick and that’s certainly important. We need that to flatten the curve. But once society goes back to normal, all of those asymptomatic carriers are going to be reintroduced into normal everyday life and they’re going to just start infection cycles all over again.

Dan:

But what would you do if you were mandated to return to school?

Tom:

It’s funny you ask, Dan. This is a conversation my wife and I had earlier this week. The short answer is, I don’t know. But the longer answer is perhaps look for 100% remote instruction employment opportunities. I don’t know. I don’t know. But it’s something that’s in the back, well it’s in the forefront of our mind.

Peter:

Same here. It’s scary. My answer is as well, I don’t know. I’m one year from retiring. So looking for a online instructional opportunity for me it’s not going to help me with my New York state pension and things like that. So my answer is I don’t know yet. I have not formulated an answer or response to that. In some ways, it’s too scary to think about.

Jake:

I’m in the same boat. I don’t know what I would do. I think we’re just going to have to wait and see how this all falls out.






Editorial Leam
Editorial Team
This article was written by a collaboration of editors and columnists on the FLR editorial team or guest contributors.




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