From the front lines

Saturday, July 25, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: As the opening of Bedford County schools approaches, teachers share their side of the story in this letter.

In recent days there have been many articles about the return to school for Bedford County teachers and students. These articles are full of comments from the superintendent/ parents and board members, but there has been a voice strangely absent. That would be the voice of educators! Afterall, we are the ones who will be on the front lines. We, along with our students and support staff, will be the first to be exposed to this disease that is affecting both our county and our state at a disproportionately high level. It would seem that some insight may be needed from us.

One question that members in our group hear often is “How do you feel about it?” It is safe to say, a growing number of Bedford County teachers do not feel great about a rushed return to school in the midst of a raging pandemic/ in a county whose numbers dwarf similar sized counties throughout the state. We do not feel great that a meeting, which was held virtually to protect its attendees, voted to return school in person on day one with full student capacity. Unlike most counties, teachers did not receive a survey, only parents. We are upset that safety measures such as masks, CDC distancing recommendations, bus spacing guidelines and class capacity were basically addressed as “do your best”. We are not excited that we, without consultation beforehand, are being asked to violate safe distance guidelines by requiring us to take students’ temperatures, which is best accomplished at 6 inches from the face of students. We are upset that, unlike many counties with similar rates of infection, our county board instantly dismissed hybrid schedules, virtual starts or a shortened school week to allow time for in depth cleaning and to give understaffed and overwhelmed school custodians a chance to follow safety guidelines. We are concerned that since this meeting to send us unprepared into battle, there has been little to any correspondence or direction at all. This has been true regardless of which school we serve. We are constantly bombarded with questions from parents to which we have no answers.

Another point of contingency is the virtual option that has been dangled in front our face. It seems there is a narrative to keep it hidden. Many of us plan to pursue it for our own children, and it isn’t an easy task. Information is sparce and details are few. It also appears there will not be a public parent meeting to discuss the details and no one seems to know who and how many teachers will be leading it. One teacher says she was told the deadline for entry was July 27 and another was told August 27th. One would think that the county would want this to be an appealing option for at risk kids and parents whose success could help facilitate easier spacing within our schools.

But what infuriates us is the message that we are sending to our students and staff.

The message that their safety is not critical. That we are willing to roll the dice with their safety in the face of everything science is telling us; the fallacy that we can just do what we have always done and everything will be fine. The county is turning a blind eye to what the state numbers are saying, less than a week after Bedford being named as having the 3rd highest rate of covid 19 per capita. Disregarding the advice of the coalition of Tennessee doctors who stated that returning to school during this surge is both “insane and irresponsible.” It’s especially hard to watch as other systems, often affected to a lesser degree by the virus, have been willing to put in the work and make adjustments to keep their students safe by offering delayed starts/ remote and hybrid integration. We have been off since March 17, is this all we have come up with?

The teachers of Bedford County are overcome with many emotions right now but frustration is the greatest of these. We are frustrated knowing that with the current guidelines or lack there of, Covid 19 will sweep through schools. At-risk kids are going to get sick. Teachers/ bus drivers/ lunch ladies, substitutes and family members are going to die. And our school’s safety will be at the mercy of the very individuals that put us here to begin with. We are frustrated that we still have no clear guidance. Time is running out and we ail have decisions to make.

Education is our passion! It’s why we chose this path. We love our schools, coworkers and staff. These schools become families. Our students are our children. We cherish each and every one of them, that is why we must take every step to keep them safe. This disease won’t last forever. Our dedication to these children will. We will do whatever it takes to meet their educational needs, whether that’s in-person instruction, virtual or some combination of both. However, it’s imperative that we don’t rush them back before we can ensure a safe environment for all. I think we all know that cannot be accomplished by Aug. 3rd.

— Teachers of Bedford County