Re-opening Schools During a Pandemic
Kids benefit from human interaction and in person learning for full days. There is no caring educator who would debate that. This pandemic has only exposed further inequities that exist in terms of internet access and access to technology.
However, at this point in time, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has failed to commit to providing any funds or plans for cleaning, masks, temperature checks or staffing because we would rather spend our money on the police than have a nurse in every school apparently. It didn't make sense before the pandemic and it doesn't make sense right now.
What CPS has proposed is a "pod" system of 15 kids that rotate 2 days on and 2 days off with kids that have learning needs being offered a full 5 days. This sounds like a reasonable compromise if the buildings were cleaned and safety procedures were followed. However, CPS has failed to even answer some of the logistical questions for clinicians like myself.
Let me break it down real talk so that people can understand what the situation is. The vast majority of clinicians are "itinerant" which means we travel between schools and are in and out of classrooms all day. There are many schools that have just a handful of students who need services so it wouldn't work to be just at one school for the vast majority of us. When I had the most schools, I had 8. Because my workload (number of students I need to see) increased the last two years at 2 of my schools, I have just these two now and another clinician covers the other 6 schools.
So, let me break this down farther. I go to two schools and roughly 10 classrooms which means, in this current system, each day I would be exposed to 75 students (ages 3-14 at the moment) and 10 teachers plus teacher's aides and other staff members (clerks, food service, other clinicians). At my one school, the Physical Therapist is at 14 schools. The Speech Therapist is at 3 schools. The nurse is at 6 schools. The Psychologist is at 4 schools. The social worker is at 2 schools. I believe there is one school that both the psychologist and nurse are at so we will eliminate that as a unique school. That's still 28 novel schools that just the clinician team are traveling in and out of every day and then we have to get together as a team to see students and meet on their behalf.
Ok, are you following along? It's complicated. So, we're at 28 schools so far just from my one school. But, remember, these are unique schools. So, for the Physical Therapist who is going to schools no one else on the same clinician team goes to, every single clinician team at her other schools has other clinicians they work with who go into other schools. So, one Physical Therapist would likely be exposed to a huge chunk and vast majority of schools throughout the district in one week of services. What I am saying is that, under the current model, all it takes is for one itinerant clinician to become positive and not realize it and spread it throughout the schools in the district.
Let me also talk about art, music, gym, and library if the kids in that school are lucky enough to have those things instead of cops or their new fun name "School Resource Officers" (even though the only 'resource' they seem to be providing is increasing trauma and racial inequities). In a typical day, these teachers would enter 7 classrooms which would mean exposure to 75 kids under the current model and they would be going from class to class every day.
Let's get back to cleaning. You know how I said kids would be in their classrooms or "pod" all day? You remember that kids have to go to the bathroom, though, right? Boys, especially have to go to the bathroom ten times a day and they have to play in the bathroom because they are boys. (That is no joke). Well, in a situation where the bathrooms aren't cleaned several times throughout the day, you still have the possibility of hundreds of children depending on the size of the school sharing bathroom facilities. You may have the same problem with playground equipment if you allow recess. And, let's not forget that while we were so adamant about mask wearing, a bunch of white entitled parents were protesting without masks at the capital of Illinois in Springfield because they didn't think their child should have to wear one at school (because nothing says entitlement like "I don't care if my child inadvertently passes along a virus that kills his/her/their teachers and classmates")
I think I am done with this ramble but I wanted people to understand what we're facing as teachers in a school district that has been starved for resources and now we're expecting that same school district to exercise planning and safety measures it never has come close to.
I'll tell you another anecdote that's pretty fun. I was not allowed in either school building during the shelter at home in Chicago from mid March to mid June. When I went back to one of my schools to pick up items in June, there was only one thing that was stolen...it was the cleaning supplies I'd purchased out of my own money.
Signs representing students on the back of student chairs visible here and other signs not included in this frame but present as part of yesterday's City Hall protest read:
"Got COVID Last Spring"
"No Health Insurance"
"Anxious About Getting COVID"
"Took CTA *our transportation system* this morning and was exposed to COVID"
"Student in Temporary Living Situation" (otherwise known as homeless)
"Lost a Family Member to Covid"
**All photos are copyrighted**