LETTER: A lazy, unimaginative, stingy and unrealistic ‘plan’

Image courtesy The Acadiana Advocate
Since this letter was submitted, LPSS announced that students in grades Pre-K through 5 will begin in the blended learning model and quickly transition to full-time, face-to-face instruction.

This is a public service announcement for parents of LPSS students and other concerned citizens, and I mean that in all seriousness.

I am a former teacher in Lafayette Parish schools, married to a current teacher with 21 years in LPSS. I am also a parent. Initially, I was so excited about the hybrid plan because I thought it was the best compromise. However, since that time, I have read the “plan.” I know it sounds good on paper, but I am here to tell you how things will actually work on the ground because I know, and all parents deserve to know. I’m going to take this point by point, directly from the plan:

1. “Students will only be allowed to ride their assigned bus.”

In my years at Lafayette High (2016-2018), there were multiple bus changes almost every day, due to drivers being out, buses being down, unexpected delays, etc. This meant that many students were told to ride a bus other than their assigned bus on many days. How much more often will this happen when drivers start getting COVID? Yet, I see no mention of hiring extra bus drivers, nor has any money been identified for this purpose in the budget.

2. “Students and staff who exhibit symptoms of illnesses are to stay home.” 

Throughout our time as teachers (since 1989 at five different schools between myself and my husband, in Texas and Louisiana), it has been a regular occurrence for parents, feeling they had no other choice, to dose their sick, symptomatic kids with anti-fever or cough suppressant meds and send them to school. I’m not judging, just stating the facts. 

Some parents will continue to do this, even during COVID-19, because some don’t think that COVID-19 is such a big deal, and again, because they feel they have no other choice. Teachers also regularly report to school when they are ill because they feel they have no choice, and while the majority of teachers would never intentionally risk exposing their students and coworkers to COVID-19, the symptoms of COVID-19 are so varied and common that it may not readily be apparent that is indeed what they have. They can’t quarantine themselves for two weeks at a time every time they feel fatigued (always), or have a headache (often), or stomach pain or a sore throat.

3. “Staff temperature checks will be taken upon arrival to campus.” 

Many people with COVID-19 do not have a fever, so while this makes for a good visual that may give parents and staff false reassurance, this is largely wasted money and time.

4. “Student temperature checks will be taken during 1st-hour class.” 

Again, many people with COVID-19 do not have a fever, plus MOST kids are asymptomatic.

5. “Students or staff exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or with a temperature of 100.4 or higher will be moved to a designated location and will promptly leave campus.”

I’m sorry, but this is laughable. First, before a teacher can leave campus, someone else has to be put in charge of her/his class. 

There is already a chronic shortage of substitutes in our district. How much truer will this be during COVID-19? How many people are going to put their health and life and the health and lives of their family members at risk for $60-75/day? (That is the rate listed in the opening budget.) 

Because of this, on many days at Lafayette High, multiple teachers were out without subs. So their students were divided up among the other teachers in their department. So much for social distancing. This was such a regular occurrence that we all had to make out reassignment rosters at the beginning of each semester and post them on our doors, so kids would know where to go when this happened. In order for a student to leave campus, there must be someone able to pick him or her up in the middle of the day. This is not a given.

6. Facial Coverings. 

We all know from watching the news, reading social media posts, and listening to governors, mayors, and other elected officials around the country that this is not going to go well. I also know how many students already buck dress code and other rules, often in very rude, disruptive ways. There will be numerous students who buck the facial covering rule because they see their parents and elected officials bucking it. This will be a constant battle and one more stressor for teachers. 

Also, I can’t imagine having to teach all day, wearing a mask. That’s a lot of oral communication that must be clearly understood, and I can’t think of another profession that is so dependent upon constant oral communication for extended periods of time. I’m just not sure how that’s going to go, though I can easily imagine it not going well.   

7. “Doorknobs, fixtures, and other high touch surfaces and high traffic areas, such as restrooms, will be cleaned multiple times per day.” 

No, they certainly will not be — unless LPSS doubles its custodial staff. 

During my recent time at Lafayette High, I was lucky if my floor got swept, and I regularly took out my own trash. Nothing was ever cleaned except the front offices and hallway, cafeteria, and restrooms, plus floors over extended school holidays. Most of the school was disgustingly filthy. The custodial staff had been cut in half over the years and was constantly short-staffed. 

Imagine how short-staffed they are going to be when janitors start getting COVID. 

Yet, I do not see any mention of hiring more custodians, nor does the budget include any funds for this. If they couldn’t even manage to sweep every classroom on a daily basis, how on earth are they supposed to clean multiple surfaces and areas several times each day? It isn’t going to happen. The same goes for cleaning the water fountains multiple times each day.

Minus additional custodial staff, the school district’s assumption about this is that teachers will conduct all the cleaning of their classroom between each class. Besides that being yet another item on teachers’ already endless to-do list, if teachers are cleaning in the 3-5 minutes between bells (an impossibly inadequate amount of time), who will be monitoring the students as they move from class to class? If nobody is monitoring, social distancing and proper masking will both go out the window, in addition to numerous other behavioral issues. And when, exactly, are teachers supposed to go to the bathroom, make copies, answer phone calls, set up for their next class? The current plan has students in their rooms for breakfast and lunch as well. This is not a workable plan.

In addition, all of this cleaning is much like the temperature checks. Science has shown us that the odds of catching COVID-19 from a surface are minimal, so again, this is a huge waste of money for cleaning supplies and of teachers’ already insufficient time to do their actual job. This is a lazy, unimaginative, stingy, and unrealistic “plan,” because it assumes, as usual, that overworked, underpaid, underappreciated, and disrespected teachers, many of whom are at high risk for COVID-19 themselves, will pick up all the slack. 

This “plan” does not address the crucial issues of providing sufficient staffing for transportation, cleaning, and teaching or of the budget needed to support additional staff. In addition, it completely refuses to think outside the box and apply real science to the situation. Why aren’t we investing in large tents for outdoor instruction, which is the safest location? Yes, it’s hot and rainy in South Louisiana. I grew up in Houston before there was air conditioning in the schools, and we survived just fine. Why isn’t money being invested in air sanitizing machines? This is an airborne disease, after all, so these machines would do a better job of protecting the school community than harried, stressed, time-constrained teachers, scurrying to sanitize an entire classroom in 3 to 5 minutes!   

Please do not think that I am exaggerating or being overly negative. I am not. I am simply stating the realities that my husband and I have experienced in LPSS schools because parents deserve to be well informed.

Good luck and stay safe!

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