School Opening Order Leaves Some Feeling Sick

Rick Colgan, public high school teacher, demonstrates his face covering he intends to use at work.

Lisa Marie Lewis has been a public-school teacher for 23 years.  With the support of parents and the boarder community, she worked through the multiple hurricanes that closed schools repeatedly in the record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season of 2005.  She was able to talk with her students after the school and community shootings at Stoneman Douglas, Pulse, and more. Last year, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and was able to finish the school year feeling the support of her school administration and fellow teachers. Yet, this week’s emergency order by Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran has left her feeling “abandoned and slighted.”

Commissioner Corcoran’s order requires schools to open, starting in August, at least five days a week.  A full complement of educational services is required, explicitly including services for English Language Learners and students with disabilities.  However, teachers including Lewis note the lack of support to pay for personal protective equipment, additional classroom cleanings, and other precautions to make schools safer.  Lewis is quick to give accolades to the school districts in Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties where school leaders have openly stated that the Commissioner’s order is not feasible. Lewis also compliments Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis, who announced earlier this week that staff and students will be required to wear masks on campus once schools re-open.

To protect herself and her family, Lewis wears a mask in public, uses hand sanitizer copiously, washes her hands regularly and limits her exposure to others socially.  She even changes clothes immediately after she runs errands but this will not be an option once she has to report to work daily.  Lewis plans on purchasing a face shield for her and her middle-school aged daughter, and wearing both the shield and mask during her classroom teaching.

Last year, she taught approximately 185 students daily, but believes that block scheduling or other scheduling arrangements could lower that number substantially. However, no plans have been announced in Orange County as to protocols to follow when a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19.  Lewis seems unclear whether she will be required to isolate herself and / or her daughter upon a student’s positive test result which, she says, is inevitable.

“The OCPS school board should jump on the bandwagon,” and push back against the state order, Lewis says.  Such clear action in support of student and school safety would make her feel valued and supported once again.

This article is one in a series of articles about school employees and public health.


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