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Jeff Saunders: Teachers have gone from heroes to zeroes

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Teachers and their supporters gather at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City in support of school safety in reopening plans, on Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. From left are Katie Barney and Emerald Barney.

I have been dreading the end of summer.
Good news! I was near the out-of-pocket maximum on my family’s health insurance, so I decided to get some work done. I had a tonsillectomy, and fixed a deviated septum to help correct my severe obstructive sleep apnea. I also have to get “something” done on the “other end” in a week. Got to take advantage of the insurance while we can.
I teach high school and we are supposed to go back to class in a couple of weeks. My school district decided to implement a four-day in-person plan with virtual classes and help sessions on Fridays. This will allow the school district to give its facilities a deep clean over the three-day weekend. It seems reasonable enough,
The issues that teachers like me have with returning to class in person is that the pandemic is not controlled. The positive test rate is currently around 10 percent. What will happen in a school of 2,000 students?
The average class size is 35 to 40 students. (I teach ninth grade. They show up. I should’ve taught seniors.) I ran the numbers with the Georgia Tech University program that takes your county’s infection rate and then assesses the risk of an activity by group size. In Tooele County Schools, there is a 22% chance that someone in my classes will have COVID-19 and could spread it to others.
If you take the school size as a whole, there is an 80% chance that someone in the building has and will be spreading COVID-19. Schools will become superspreaders of the dreaded second wave.
Teachers want to be in the classroom. When it’s safe. Students learn better in class. When they are safe. Online teaching and learning is harder. It’s a lot more work. But it’s safer and can be more effective if changes to access and accountability are made.

Teachers used to be heroes last spring. Adapting their curriculum online on the fly in a couple days to save the world.
Now we are zeroes, forced back into the classroom to save the local economy, feed and care for students every need, because Home Depot and Walmart can reopen.
But do Walmart and Home Depot have groups of 40 customers packed together like sardines in a poorly ventilated small classroom for an hour and 10 minutes at a time? While trying to enforce social distancing and sanitizing and teaching best hygiene practices to ninth grade boys and girls?
I’ll have around 300 students on my rolls and about 2,000 in the halls during passing time.
But I’ll return to the classroom. Face shield, mask, suaver voice (menos tonsils). Maybe I’ll sound like Barry White, and no student will be able to say no to Mr. White’s instructions on sanitizing your stations and keeping your mask on at all times.
Buckle up, baby! This could be a wildly dangerous and possibly deadly ride.

Jeff Saunders

Jeff Saunders teaches social studies at Stansbury High School.
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