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From their own childcare issues to fears of getting sick, school employees face decisions

South Boston News / July 09, 2020
As teachers approach the planned start of the 2020-21 school year in Halifax County, many are wrestling with the same dilemmas faced by parents of school-age children — deciding whether it’s okay to go back to school, or stay home.

For some teachers, the decision is not one applying to them exclusively. As parents, many also must choose the best option for their school-age children.

“Honestly, as a mom and a teacher I don’t even know what to do,” said Megan Grant, a first grade teacher at South Boston Elementary.

With her teaching job to consider, Grant said she, like many other working parents, must deal with lining up childcare for those times when her kids will be at home during the school week.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have anyone that could stay home with the children during the day since everyone in my family who lives here works, so we may have to put them in school and then [find] some sort of babysitter on the opposite days,” she said, referring to the county school division’s plan to have students attend the classroom two days a week, and learn online at home at other times.

Having her kids out of school three days a week may require her to look outside the home for childcare, Grant said. “I feel like the kids would be safer in school rather than having to go to different places every other day of the week.

“I really thought this was going to be a short closure [in March] and now looking into next school year, being this radical change, it still shocks me that this is what is happening right now,” she said.

For other teachers, the idea of resuming school amid the COVID-19 pandemic conjures up dread of the possible health consequences.

At Scottsburg Elementary, a teacher who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their employment said fellow teachers also are scared and worried. “Many of us do not want to go back to school, but we do it for the kids.”

School employees fear becoming infected themselves, or seeing a child spread the virus to an elderly caregiver who may be especially vulnerable to the disease. “Then that family would have lost a significant family member for life. It’s fatally selfish,” said the teacher.

Another concern shared by teachers is the amount of time it will take simply to start the school day due to taking and recording every student’s temperature. One teacher would be needed to take the temperature and another to find the student’s name on a spreadsheet and record the reading. Even that careful approach could be undone if parents give their children medication to get symptoms under control before sending them off to school.

“What if the student was given a fever reducing medicine due to the fact parents must work to make ends meet?” the teacher asked.

At the county’s elementary schools, the administration is preparing a four-day classroom schedule for students in grades K-2. The goal, stated by Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg, is consistent with the guidance of educators and health professionals that emphasizes the necessity of face-to-face instruction for the system’s youngest pupils. But the Scottsburg teacher questioned whether the county school division has enough teaching personnel to make such an arrangement work.

“In the larger schools, their class teacher would not be available to teach virtually to their students at home on the alternate days,” said the teacher.

Many teachers bring their work home with them every night, raising the question of how much more will be asked of them without additional compensation.

“The only way teacher’s voices will come out is anonymously,” said the Scottsburg teacher. Their concerns extend to the question of whether PPE will be available for school staff. “We are essential workers and we do not know if the school will be able to provide facemasks for everyone,” the teacher said.

Another educator, a faculty member at Halifax County High School, expressed hope “that things will improve and more possibilities will arise” before the county resumes school on Sept. 7, after the Labor Day holiday weekend.

Among their other problems as parents and educators, the HCHS teacher pointed to fact that some colleagues have children attending different schools in the county, raising the potential for chaos. But the teacher credited the Central Office for its work to minimize scheduling conflicts: “The elementary and secondary grades may have different schedules too, but the Central Office staff is taking families with children at multiple levels into consideration to make it as easy as possible on all parties.

“Lots of thought and effort is going into considering options. It’s tough because no matter what happens — there will be some hardships, and of course, always some negativity,” said the high school teacher.

Sandra Garner-Coleman, vice chair of the School Board, said the school division is doing everything it can to protect the health and safety of everyone who will be entering school buildings starting in September. Teachers and staff included: “If the teachers get infected, who would teach?” she asked. “I don’t think teachers will come out of retirement.”

School officials face money constraints, too, she said, despite receiving $1.3 million in federal funding for pandemic-related measures through the CARES Act passed by Congress in March. Garner-Coleman said she asked school finance director Robert Aylor how long the money will hold out. “It would not go through a semester,” she said, repeating his answer.

The administration and school trustees also are eyeing developments with the pandemic, which crossed the three million mark for infections across the U.S. on Wednesday. “We will have to wait and see how Phase Three kicks in,” said Garner-Coleman of the state’s reopening plan. If there are spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases, “we may have to back up and retreat as other states are doing now.”

As for pushing the school start date to September, “I am glad we are waiting after Labor Day, that gives an additional month to see the number of cases in the county,” Garner-Coleman said.

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While there is a discussion of whether kids should return to school, let's us look at the real issue in America. Parents and children are out and about on vacations and in big box stores, Walmart, Lowe's, etc. daily. Those places never had to close and are germ factories. The BEST place for youth is in a controlled learning environment getting their temperatures taken daily with a school nurse on staff. The spread of COVID-19 is occurring due to lack of social distancing and lack of mask wearing. Also with the extra sales tax now being collected from taxpayers it surely would pay for proper cleaning and disinfecting of schools. It's funny that the HCHS is no longer a community issue and would seem there is now NO NEED to build a facility since kids will be distance learning from home. My prior comments were removed from articles so let's see if this gets edited/removed as well.

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