Rob Collins

Rob Collins, editor of The Norman Transcript.

In the middle of July, it’s a summer like no other.

Traditional vacation plans are up in the air. Few are traveling abroad.

Some suggested COVID-19 would disappear with the heat. Unfortunately, the numbers are spiking with the summertime temperature.

And as coronavirus cases increase, anxiety is building among our educators.

More than 8 in 10 Oklahoma public school teachers and support staff report concern about their health if schools reopen again next month. Also, nearly 1 in 3 are particularly susceptible to complications if they contract COVID-1.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos told Chris Wallace “there's nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous.”

DeVos talked a lot about the well-being of children and concern for parents. Obviously, everybody cares about that. 

I didn’t hear enough about teachers. Full disclosure: My significant other is a senior counselor at a public high school. That’s in the same state that just recorded it’s “first COVID-19-related death of a school-aged child,” according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

You’ve heard of MAPS for Kids. Call this plea Masks for Kids. And that’s an important first step.

“Students need to learn,” State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said in a released statement. “We want schools to reopen this fall, but for that to happen, it is critical that Oklahomans take decisive actions now to mitigate spread of the virus. Wearing a mask around other people is a small sacrifice for the sake of literally saving lives. We owe it to our children, teachers and staff for them to be able to go to school knowing that strong safeguards are in place for their safety and well-being.”

But is that enough? Remember, many adults at school sites feel they have no choice in reporting for work.

We’re not just talking teachers. There are administrators, counselors, nurses, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers.

Good educators want to be with their students. If you gave them a truth serum, few educators will say they loved working from home during the quarantine last spring.

There are bugs to be worked out. In Oklahoma, no-fault grading had its faults from an achievement standpoint. Other states with more accountability still had students opting out from Zoom meetings. 

Many educators are older and have an underlying health condition. Some live with someone compromised, or they may be a caretaker for a vulnerable senior.

The fear is genuine. Some educators are writing a last will and testament. Others are thinking about retirement or planning to cash in their sick leave.

The need for substitutes could be greater than ever. Many longtime subs won’t want to risk teaching this fall. And class size can’t balloon with less teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before buying school supplies, parents should consider distance learning if it can be improved. Currently, school districts statewide are planning for contingencies of in-school learning, distance learning or some other hybrid.

We need to get back to school, but we can’t compromise safety for convenience. We all want what’s best for our children, but let’s not forget the educators.

Collins can be reached at editor@normantranscript.com.

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