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Whatever The TEA Says, Teachers Fear In-Person Instruction Is Too Risky

Science teachers Ann Darby, left, and Rosa Herrera check in students before a summer STEM camp at Wylie High School on July 14.
LM Otero
Associated Press
Science teachers Ann Darby, left, and Rosa Herrera check in students before a summer STEM camp at Wylie High School on July 14.

The rise of COVID-19 cases in Texas led the state's education commissioner to allow school districts to keep classes online through their first eight weeks, if they choose — a big chunk of the school year. 

Districts don't have to do that, which leads to some educators feeling stuck between a deadly virus and the passion to teach in-person.

Education Commissioner Mike Morath's policy shift was a bright light for some teachers, including Sarah Johnson. Despite doubting students can stay 6 feet apart from each other or wear masks all day, the veteran Dallas school district teacher welcomes the guidance of doctors.

"Because it means that as soon as the medical communities in our area say that we're good, then we're able to start again but it also doesn't try to pressure the school to (stick) to a date area that doesn't actually reflect the reality of what the virus is actually doing in the area," Johnson said.

Erica Cole, a teacher in Denton, was more skeptical of the commissioner's announcement.

"It was a way to push off the responsibility onto others," Cole said.

Cole's district has moved the first day of school to Aug. 26 and is still surveying parents about teaching online or in-person. Like every teacher interviewed, Cole prefers face-to-face instruction. She and her husband both have underlying health conditions and are raising their 3 year-old daughter.

"I love my job. For me going to school, fine arts was the reason why I went. I know that for many students they feel the same way," Cole said. "There is a teacher — there is someone special for them in that school. And that's why they go. But I shouldn't have to choose between taking care of my family and taking care of my students."

Cole's family extends beyond those at home, including an adult son battling drug addiction.

"One of the things that I worry about is that if I get sick will he be able to handle the stress? Or if I die, will that cause him to start using again?"

One lesson that elementary school teacher Esther Martinez said will be central to this year's curriculum — hygiene and keeping a safe distance. She's just unsure how effective those lessons will be with a class of 20 to 25 students.

"If we are required to keep our kids socially distant, that means when I'm travelling in the hall, my line is going to be like 75 feet long," Martinez said. "And I don't know how I can keep an eye on my kids when they are that spread out."

Denton teacher Sashenka Lopez says preaching hand hygiene doesn't always work.

"We already teach young children the importance of washing their hands and covering their mouths and elbows when they sneeze and they cough, and we still have massive illness through the school during the flu season for example," Lopez said.

In this season of the coronavirus, Dallas Advanced Placement Spanish instructor Delna Bryan worries the disease will inevitably spread, even with precautions like checking a child's temperature before boarding the bus and again before walking into school.

"But what happens if that child, by lunchtime, there’s an elevated temperature. They want to send that child home. Where do you find a parent at that time, when most parents are at work? Is that safe? I don't think it's safe," Bryan said.

Got a tip? Email Reporter Bill Zeeble at . You can follow him on Twitter @bzeeble.

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Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.