As parents, teachers and administrators grapple with the question of when and how to reopen schools in a pandemic, some argue that kids need to return to the classroom in person to keep up with their academic, social and emotional growth. But others worry the opposite may be true.
“Having them experience multiple deaths is not supporting them emotionally or socially,” said Lisa Townley, a teacher from Natick, who has worked in public and private schools for more than 15 years. She joined Jim Braude on Greater Boston on Monday to discuss a recent Facebook post she wrote, expressing grave concern over the possibility of sending students back to school while the pandemic is still raging across the country.
"These thoughts shake me to my core: what is going to happen to our school communities when multiple members of our community pass away from COVID? What will social/emotional growth look like for an elementary, middle, or high school student processing multiple, avoidable deaths? How will they process the anger and grief knowing it was senseless?” she wrote in the post.
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Townley told Braude that while she does have concerns about her personal safety and that of her colleagues, it was her feeling of responsibility to her students that compelled her to write the post, despite fearing public and professional backlash for speaking out.
“I don’t think that it’s safe to have kids in the classroom right now. I think the country needs to have coronavirus under far more control than it does already. I think it’s reckless at this point, given the numbers in the country,” she said. “I strongly believe that we are putting our kids at high risk having them go back to school.”
Townley has yet to receive the fallout she was expecting from her post.
“I’ve had really positive feedback from everyone who has posted on my comment. I think everyone was thinking this, but scared to say it, possibly,” she said.
Despite concerns of teachers like Townley, many states are still planning to bring students back to school in person over the coming months. President Donald Trump recently said he would cut federal aid to any school that did not reopen in the fall.
Last month, the Baker administration releasedguidance for schools for reopening in the fall, which cites their goal as "the safe return of as many students as possible to in-person school settings" and health and safety requirements. The Mass. Teachers Association, the largest teacher’s union in the state, has expressed concerns about the state’s plan.
“I really hope that we as a community can realize that sacrificing life isn’t something that’s worth opening schools for,” Towney said.
This article has been updated.