Mask Up ... Schools Are Open!

My name is Shaye. I’m a single Black mother of a 9 year-old daughter who is amazing and a 6 year-old son with Autism who is equally as amazing. I am also a proud and very involved Special Education Resource teacher.

And... I am in fear of COVID-19.

When Covid hit I woke up most mornings with anxiety and stress, while preparing my children and students for remote and paper-based learning. I was multi-tasking while dealing with quarantine statutes, making meals... and worrying about who would be the next person to test positive, be hospitalized, or die from this virus. I have been suffering mentally, emotionally, and physically.

In the recent months, numbers increased and restrictions were put in place for everyone’s health and safety. It seemed as though people were taking the virus seriously so numbers began to decline. Governors laid out plans for us to reopen in phases to begin the journey of a “new normal”. It seemed like going back into school buildings would happen! To say I miss working with my students and colleagues is an understatement. I get extremely emotional just thinking about it.

States and other countries began their reopening phases. In Georgia’s Gwinnett County, schools reopened only to find that 260 district employees had tested positive and had to be quarantined. There were teachers who knew they had the virus and could not return to work. In addition, a second grader tested positive after attending the first day of school.

In Israel, within days of a school reopening, students were reported to have contracted COVID-19 and the numbers continued to rise.

There are many more stories like this that prove that we are NOT ready to reopen our schools.

In Paterson, NJ where I live the reopening plan was presented by the Board of Education. While many details were shared, I still have questions and sincere concerns...

Is there a real time budget in place to ensure that we do not run out of PPE equipment?

What happens to children who come to school sick?

Is isolating them an entire day the answer?

How can we safely isolate them?

How can parents who are also teachers be in school buildings while their children are in a Hybrid model?

How can people with compromised immune systems ..... students, teachers, administrators, secretaries, custodial staff, specialists, cafeteria workers, etc....safely return to school grounds?

What will happen with transportation?

My son has Autism. There are many children with special needs who may struggle with wearing and keeping on their masks all day. How can we address them riding buses and being in classrooms without exposing other students or exposing themselves?

As per NJ Governor Murphy’s order, are we really going to see our children keep their masks on an entire school day? His order also states that no “mask breaks” are allowed. Indoor gatherings have been reduced to 25 people. How can schools adhere to this? We are talking about reopening and having people return to school when there is a high probability that there will be persons who have the virus and not be aware as they enter school buildings, exposing others.

There are so many more questions and concerns by parents and teachers like me. Is it really worth a child or an adult potentially contracting the virus and having to quarantine? Is it worth having one of our students or staff succumb to this virus and have to announce another funeral? 1 is too high a number in my opinion.

I know there are a select group of people who will read this and think that I just do not want to return to school because I am a teacher. That I want to stay home and do nothing. Let me correct you... Absolutely untrue!

Educators stepped up and took on this challenge in unforeseen super hero like fashion!

We made it look “easy” when many critics had no idea how much work we put forth for our students and school districts from our homes. I have broken down crying at nights as many of my colleagues can empathize the same. I have had my students break down because they were struggling with being home. The social-emotional piece to this is real and no one is aware of it more than parents and educators. We would love to return to our school buildings and get back to what we do best…just not at the risk of anyone’s life. It is about the health and safety of my students, my students’ families, my colleagues, my colleagues’ families, my administrators, my administrators’ families, and my life.

I cannot be silent about this. None of us can afford to be silent. We have a voice and we need to use it.

Shaye Brown