FPS candidates on return to school: Donald Walker

Editor’s note: Farmington Voice readers have asked that we pose one more question to Farmington Public Schools candidates: Where do you stand on sending students back into the classroom? We’re publishing responses as they are received. 

DONALD WALKER (TWO-YEAR TERM)

Where do I stand on sending students back into the classroom? During these unprecedented times, there is no right answer for everyone. With that said, I side with the safety of students and teachers as my first consideration. I firmly believe a child cannot learn if the child does not feel safe. I also believe the feelings of the parents must be taken into consideration as well.

Realistically, everyone is not taking the same level of precautions from getting the virus. For those who are taking a more relaxed approach, that is their prerogative. I do not judge. However, the virus is still present. Its transmission rate is still incredibly high. People are still getting sick as evidenced by the spike in numbers recently. People are still dying from it. Those who survive it are still reporting debilitating conditions and symptoms from having the virus. Lastly, there are reports of people who are getting the virus for a second time. If more evidence points to this being true, then the concept of “herd immunity” is not an option. It is not safe enough to put our children, teachers and others they love at risk. We simply do not know enough.

Covid-19 is a chameleon-like virus. Its symptoms mirror everything from an allergy to the flu. As we enter the flu season, how do we determine the difference between someone’s flu and Covid-19? When symptoms are noted in the school, is the entire class then asked to be isolated and quarantined? How often will this happen before the school is closed because we simply do not know what the children have. How do we tell the difference?

I am concerned about our ability to properly, consistently clean and sanitize. Admittedly, I would like confirmation on this, but it is my understanding we lack the appropriate level of custodial support in every school for full and around the clock cleaning. There must be continuous cleaning by the custodians NOT the teachers. Why would we ask teachers who are already stressed to take on the responsibility of cleaning between classroom switching? We must move away from this model of expecting our teachers to do so many things AND teach. We need custodians performing this necessary work for our schools as often as possible throughout the day and after-school. This would include daily, constant wiping of high traffic surfaces and fogging too. This is not a task for teachers. They have enough to do.

The district is expecting teachers to instruct a virtual and in-person class at the same time. Teachers will have to manage the physical classroom while trying to keep the virtual class engaged. This is too much. The level of engagement needed for virtual learning is difficult enough without having to keep an eye on what is happening in the classroom too. We are not being fair to our teachers. They are being asked to teach under these conditions while still navigating a learning management system that was introduced to them roughly two weeks before the start of school in a pandemic.

I do understand that we have parents who must have their children in school for a variety of reasons. Since all the options for student engagement were not fully communicated to the community, I must ask if a learning center environment scenario was considered. Learning center model would provide a fully virtual curriculum taught to both remote and face to face students.

Families who want their children to stay home could do so. Families who must send their students to school would do so. Students in both locations would follow the same bell schedule as if they were in the same environment. The teacher would instruct from either in their classroom or at home. The teacher however is not overseeing two separate environments. We could use a support person who is willing to come in and provide supervision over the face to face students. With smaller groups, social distancing is more of an option. Is this a perfect solution? No. It does assume more families want to be home than want to be face to face. But it does provide a compromise that minimizes risk and provides consistency for teachers and students alike.

I am not in favor of rushing back to face to face instruction. I believe we should wait at least until the second semester to provide more time to assess the situation. I believe we should work for more consistency in the method of instruction while working to give teachers room to breathe. I am not in favor of teachers having to make their third performance/teaching pivot since March. We as a district are not ready to bring students, teachers and staff back to an enclosed environment at the beginning of an additional viral season while we still anticipate a second wave of the coronavirus. If the increasing number of coronavirus victims are an indication, we are not through the worst of it.

 

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