Sunday, August 23, 2020

Risk Assessment for September

I have two weeks left before going back to school in person. I've been writing on social media and sending emails and signing petitions because this plan in Ontario doesn't feel remotely safe. I've even jumped queue and wrote to the upper echelon of my school board in an attempt to be heard. This is strictly against the rules of the bureaucratic system, but lives are on the line.  

I was all prepared to go back, but then I saw the secondary school schedule. 

Even though we're just there for half the day, we have a mandatory nutrition break for 45 minutes in which everyone in the school will take their masks off at once. I'd love to see any administrator or board office employee sit in a room with 15 strangers, with NOBODY 6' apart, while they eat and talk for 45 minutes. They're still having Zoom meetings with each other! And somehow, in Ontario schools, the new rules say you only need to be 3' apart to be safe. I'm not sure why Covid doesn't travel as far once you enter a school, but there it is! Magic!!

Apparently this plan has been backed by public health, so therefore, as has been explained to me, it is low risk. But this chart, developed by infectious disease specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, suggests that eating in classrooms is actually a high-risk activity.

The oh-so-frustrating thing is that it's completely unnecessary to have everyone de-mask at once. The start and stop times for our day are in stone because of bussing issues*, but there are other ways to reduce the risk. If there is pressure from some group (but who???) to have a lunch break during a half day schedule, then we can stagger the break in the school, either officially - offering the cafeteria to classes to spread out at specific times - or in a more ad hoc manner with just a few kids leaving class briefly to have a snack. 

But, the bottom line here is that students and teachers have the RIGHT to NOT be in a room with people unmasked, less than 6' away in order to get an education. Students shouldn't have to learn from home to avoid unmasked students eating beside them. If we just send people who need to eat mid-morning to a large and well-ventilated room, spread apart from one another, then it completely removes that risk. And then, maybe, I'll shut up about it already!!  

BUT the BIGGER concern is the message I'm getting over and over from people in power: "If you don't feel safe, then ask to teach from home or take a leave of absence." 

The way this works, as far as I understand it, is they look at the number of kids who want to work from home, and the number of teachers who want to work from home, and they match them up with teaching sections. So, it would be unlikely that I'd end up teaching the sweet sweet senior elective courses that I love so much. I might not even end up teaching in my area. BUT if there are way more teachers wanting to be home than kids to teach, then those teachers are ranked based on perceived risk such as asthma or caring for an elderly relative, etc. Then people get matched to a class first. Teachers who are unmatched, then, are officially on an unpaid leave. Having recovered from cancer a few years ago isn't even on the list, so, if I put my name forward to work from home, I think it means I could end up losing a year's salary. As a single mom, that's not an option for me. 

But nevermind that scheme because the real issue with this response is that I'm not just concerned with me! Right now, I don't think ANYONE should be inside a building, less than 6' apart, and unmasked. So counselling me to "just stay home" doesn't actually solve the problem. We need a solution that keeps everyone safer. 

It's like bike racks. Kids get their bikes stolen from our racks all the time, and I've had that same misfortune. So, I was told, if you don't want your bike stolen, then bring it to your classroom. But that's such an individualistic solution to a communal problem!! The solution is elitist since students can't bring bikes to class. There are cameras outside the school, but NONE point to the bike racks, so trucks pull up and guys cut the locks on bikes and take a pile at once. Can we just move a camera?? Nope. That's a board decision, and it will take forever to actually convince someone to make that change. So bikes continue to be stolen. But, you know, you should just look out for yourself and keep your bike in your room, and ignore the effect this has on the students.

In On Violence, Hannah Arendt explains the problem with bureaucracies:  

"Bureaucracy or the rule of an intricate system of bureaus in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few nor the many, can be held responsible, and which could be properly called rule by Nobody. . . . Rule by Nobody is clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could even be asked to answer for what is being done. It is this state of affairs, making it impossible to localize responsibility and to identify the enemy, that is among the most potent causes of the current world-wide rebellious unrest, its chaotic nature, and its dangerous tendency to get out of control."

When I ask about the safety of the plan, the response is that Public Health approved of it. So even though we can look at what other schools have done that have worked or have been a disaster, and even though we can look at the general rules posted over and over by health advocates (when indoors, stay 6' apart and ALWAYS wear a mask), and, using our big brains, we can come to the conclusion that this system doesn't appear to be safe, it doesn't matter. Someone along the chain of command said it's fine, so jump out of your barricades and start teaching! If we get sick and some of us die, it's not the principal's fault, or the board's fault, or the ministry's fault, or public health's fault. Ford will get much of the blame and get voted out, but, really, we MUST ALL have the ability to think about the orders give to us, and to decide if they truly make sense before we implement them.  But, in our bureaucracy, everyone's diverting responsibility to another group in a giant circlejerk.

We can be on the side of following rules to the letter, like good employees - like Adolf Eichmann - OR we can be on the side of reducing the risk of the virus spreading and saving the lives of our students and their families, possibly at the cost of our jobs if the board takes it that far.

I, for one, will tell my class of my concerns and dissuade them from eating, or separate eaters from non-eaters, to, at the very least, offer an area of the room that's compliant with mandatory mask rules. It might be like eating in the non-smoking section of a restaurant, but it moves people a little further aside.  I might even suggest people take a quick walk outside to eat or that students who wish to opt out of eating in class may sit in the hallway. I've asked if students are allowed to walk around at all in the 4.5 hours, but haven't gotten a reply. I understand that we don't want everyone in the halls, but surely they can go outside for a few minutes at some point, in a staggered manner, right??. If everyone in my class wants to eat, then I might even sneak my class down to the cafeteria to spread out more. But I wish the entire school or board or province had more risk-adverse solutions to this plan. 

Wish me luck!! (And send an email to Ford and Lecce and your local schools!)


* I can't help thinking that it's not just about bussing. Busses typically get all kids to each school in an hour (based on the current staggered times for schools), so it makes sense that, at the extreme, they could drop off and pick up within two hours. So three hours should be a breeze!! But, instead, we're in the building together for 4.5 hours. The fact that teachers must remain in the building until the end of the school day, prepping in a room full of germs instead of being allowed to go home and remove all PPE and clean up before getting down to work, is a clear sign that we are not trusted as professionals. There's always this background concern about public perception, that we can't have the public see teachers at the grocery store at 1:30 in the afternoon or else it appears that we do no work! But teachers worked our asses off for three and a half months without supervision. We can work just as diligently from home in the afternoons. So is it to force a longer school day to keep tabs on teachers for the optics?? Lecce wants half of the instructional time to be face-to-face, but 3 hours/day just gives us 33/110 hours together. To get close to half, he must be including the lunch and study sessions as face-to-face instruction time (49.5/110). Why not just let us teach for 4.5 hours and trust us to provide our own breaks for students as needed?? And the argument that, because some students are bussed and have to stay for 4.5 hours, therefore all students must stay for 4.5 hours, at this point, is absolutely homicidal. NOTHING MAKES SENSE!!


The Disaffected Lib said...

I'm left with the feeling that this is a giant science experiment in which students, teachers and support staff are lab critters. Have there been any great successes as U.S. schools re-opened?

Marie Snyder said...

I'm not sure about the states, but Norway and Denmark have done well, opening very small classes, starting just with primary grades, and many have plexiglass barriers on each desk, so a slipped mask isn't a big deal. I looked into buying some for my classroom, but they're about $150 each, which is a bit much for me to afford. And I've even looked into taking a leave to work at a grocery store, but my son's meds will use up any money I might make there without my glorious benefits in place. Some countries are really tracing carefully, which helps. As far as I've heard so far, we're just getting people to take their own temperature, and if someone's sick, only that student stays home, and the rest of the cohort continues in class even though 45% of people with Covid have zero symptoms. Madness!! Self-testing with a thermometer isn't enough; we need kids randomly tested with a swab or saliva test. At the very least, one sick kid should prompt then entire cohort to be tested.

Israel is a great example of a disaster to avoid, caused because they didn't limit class sizes, prioritize physical distancing, mandate mask wearing or ensure proper ventilation, which all sounds pretty familiar! I think it's more than an experiment; I think it's a move to make public schools fail so the government can shift towards more private schools.

Lorne said...

I can only imagine the anxiety that you and all other teachers are feeling at this time, Marie. As you point out, the 'plan' is deeply flawed, and I can't help but believe it cannot be sustained.

Although the Covid situation is obviously much worse in the U.S., this story perhaps points to things to come here:

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks for the link, Lorne. Unfortunately, I seem to have zero influence over my province, board, or school. I can only try to influence my classroom, if parents of students in my room are open to separating people who need to eat mid-morning. It is terrifying to walk into a plan that you know isn't safe. I'm hoping to get enough sleep between now and then that I'm not delirious by the first day!!