JCPS Reopening: The New Debate of Public Health vs. Risks to Teachers and Families
Tuesday, February 16th, the Jefferson County Board of Education will meet to discuss the recommendation put forth by Superintendent Dr. Pollio. It’s expected that Dr. Pollio will recommend to reopen schools.
The teachers that I have spoken to are largely in the same boat as other JCPS families - attempting to take in all of the information and make an informed risk assessment, with minimal communication or acknowledgement of concerns. Frustration and confusion among those with concerns, to say the least.
Into this confusion and charged atmosphere comes the recently released CDC guidelines and the “growing body of evidence” that schools can be reopened safely - which is sure to swing public opinion further towards reopening.
As I mentioned in my post yesterday - this information has made me more confident that from a community perspective, we can safely reopen, and we should because the benefit is higher than the aggregate risks.
But - and this will be the point of friction in the coming weeks - while the risk for the community is lower, we are transferring risks to already burdened teachers, staff and their families.
We are asking teachers and staff to take on individual risks that they have been ill-informed to assess and ill-equipped to handle. Worse, from the telling nature of the questions I have heard from teach friends (especially those with at-risk family members) they have not been granted an opportunity to have their concerns addressed.
For example: only today, Board Member Chris Kolb shed light on concerns around teachers with at-risk family members or risk factors themselves. The CDC Guidelines suggest “temporary reassignment” for these teachers. By my accounting, JCPS’ guidelines there have been unclear.
In addition to the likes of Mr. Kolb (himself not an educator by trade) there are many JCPS Board members who are educators, and they have expressed concerns similar to this. “How will social distancing be possible?” “How will it be enforced?” “What is the risk of taking COVID home to my family?” “What are the quarantine protocols?”
The teachers I know are invested and involved, so I doubt seriously that this is merely teachers “not paying attention”. Given the lack of detailed communication from JCPS to families, I tend to assume this is the case for both parties.
I suspect this is going to be a very contentious, fast-moving few weeks if the recommendation to reopen comes down. I honestly don’t know how the Board will vote - but from recent responses from Board members and the new guidelines - I suspect they’ll pass it with reservations.
This will leave JCPS steaming towards reopening (as early as March 17th), with concerned teachers and their union standing in the way.
This is an unfortunately contentious position for teachers. It will likely elicit responses from the public akin to “take one for the team, like other frontline workers”. But, as a friend put it - “while teacher’s unions are in the spotlight right now, it is only because unions have been decimated in other sectors … front-line retail, grocery, restaurant, and other service industry workers haven’t forced a work stoppage on a national scale” - not because they don’t have concerns, but because they don’t have the leverage.
Teachers, however, do.
If there is a public fight over reopening, it won’t be the teachers’ fault. They have real, legitimate concerns, and have been classically underpayed and overburdened. It’s a conversation and a negotiation that should have happened many, many months ago. Ultimately, it’s a conversation that unless addressed now, will rear its head at a later date.
And if you value educators, I’d suggest considering their concerns and the burdens we are (as a community) asking them to take (without a change in compensation).