Thursday, August 6, 2020

Letter to the school board

To: board***@---.---

From: Joseph L. Puente

Subject: 2020-21 School year should be 100% ONLINE.

It is my understanding that an emergency meeting is being held this evening to discuss whether to open schools Monday through Friday or to implement a “hybrid” program combining school attendance and online learning.

My initial reaction to this was to ask:

“Is teaching students over the internet—as was done during the second half of the last school year—not even being considered as an option?”

Please, someone, tell me that teaching students over the internet—which is the SAFEST option—is still on the table.

My wife, Danica, teaches 4th grade at Holbrook Elementary. I helped her to convert our living room into an online classroom. I am fully aware of the challenges and difficulties involved in online teaching but I also know that it can be done.

I was under the impression that being part of a society that we like to call “civilized,” meant that our collective health and safety should be our top priority. That, when presented with a difficult choice of how to move forward in almost any context, one should always choose the safest option. If there is no 100% guarantee of safety then it’s our MORAL OBLIGATION to err on the side of that which will be the LEAST HARMFUL.

Option A: Adapting to a difficult but WORKABLE model of teaching that we already KNOW is the SAFEST way to move forward.

Option B: Any decision involving even as little as a single day of weekly in-person contact—regardless of masks, social distancing, hand washing, etc.—that, statistically, WILL result in someone contracting the novel Coronavirus, potentially spreading it asymptomatically to others, resulting in someone developing COVID-19, and possibly dying from it.

Option A is undeniably the safest choice.

Option A is the LEAST harmful choice.

Option A is the ethical choice.

Option A is the moral choice.

We’ve already heard myriad excuses for choosing Option B—most of them rooted in selfishness. Frankly, the only way that any of those justifications can make sense is if one makes a conscious choice to IGNORE health and safety as relevant factors.

PLEASE, make the safe choice. Please, put the health of our students and teachers at the top of your priorities and let that alone determine the course of action for the coming school year. Have faith in their ability to adapt to the situation and overcome the challenges that it presents.

I also implore you to carefully consider the ramifications of making the selfish choice, because, if you do, and there is so much as one COVID-19 infection traced directly to a school being open during a pandemic—when it did NOT have to be—the responsibility will rest directly with those individuals who could have opted for the safest solution and consciously CHOSE NOT TO.

Below, I have included—in its entirety—the text of a recent article in The Washington Post by Jeff Gregorich, a Superintendent in Arizona, and I have taken the liberty of emphasizing those passages that stood out to me.

Thank you for taking the time to read this message.


—Joseph L. Puente

“I’m sorry, but it’s a fantasy’

Jeff Gregorich, superintendent, on trying to reopen his schools safely

... I don’t feel qualified... Each possibility I come up with is a bad one.

...covid is spreading all over this area... ...I already lost one teacher to this virus...

...we’re cutting up shower curtains and trying to make do... ...last week I found out we had another staff member who tested positive... Some of my staff members were crying... “What if this virus hits me like it did Mrs. Byrd?”...

...I don’t understand how anyone could expect us to reopen the building this month in a way that feels safe... ...since when has this virus operated on our schedule?

...More than a quarter of our students live with grandparents. These kids could very easily catch this virus, spread it and bring it back home. It’s not safe. There’s no way it can be safe.

If you think anything else, I’m sorry, but it’s a fantasy. Kids will get sick, or worse. Family members will die. Teachers will die.

Mrs. Byrd did everything right... They were so careful...  All three of them wore masks. They checked their temperatures. They taught on their own devices and didn’t share anything, not even a pencil.

...she thought it was a sinus infection... The other two teachers started feeling sick the same weekend, so they went to get tested. They both had it bad for the next month. Mrs. Byrd’s husband got it and was hospitalized. Her brother got it and passed away. Mrs. Byrd fought for a few weeks until she couldn’t anymore.

...These were three responsible adults in an otherwise empty classroom, and they worked hard to protect each other. We still couldn’t control it. That’s what scares me.

...Even if we do everything perfectly, germs are going to spread inside a school. We share the same space. We share the same air.

A bunch of our teachers have told me they will put in for retirement if we open up this month. They’re saying: “Please don’t make us go back. This is crazy. We’re putting the whole community at risk.”

...Teachers don’t feel safe... I can’t have more people getting sick... I keep waiting for someone higher up to take this decision out of my hands and come to their senses. I’m waiting for real leadership, but maybe it’s not going to happen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

To one of my Navy boot camp drill instructors

Hello, Rick.

So, my thought process went something like this:

“I was one of thousands of recruits that he shepherded through Great Lakes. There’s no way he’ll remember me…
“…Of course, I was one of those recruits that made the mistake of standing out in the crowd—a habit that dogged me through the rest of my brief naval ‘career…’
“…He was also the guy who made sure I was always on watch for company inspections because my dark beard could always be counted on as a hit regardless of how recently I shaved…
“…I was one of those short, hairy recruits so he did give me the nickname ‘Ewok…’
“There’s also the photographic evidence…”

All that being said, you have an uncredited appearance in a 2019 documentary short that I produced in the form of what they call “archival” footage—which is actually a photograph from the Company 099 “Cruise Book” insert from the spring of 1993,. You can see it in the attached link at around timecodes 01:48–01:50.

If you don’t remember me, that was somewhat expected and probably a good thing.

If you do remember me, I formally apologize for being a pain in the ass and triple-failing all my PT tests. I also feel that I should relate to you the following anecdote from my time under your instruction:

At one point—as many recruits do—I seriously fucked up…

I was standing watch at the rear entrance to the building, right outside the compartment, then occupied by Company 099. As I stood at my post, I could hear a commotion inside. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at the time. You and Petty Officer Kevan were pissed off about something that had happened. It wasn’t long before I witnessed drill instructors from other companies in the building passing my post on their way to participate in correcting the entire company for some unknown error—at least it was unknown to me at the time.

My heart raced—even worse than it is at this moment, as I recall the experience—as I listened to 80+ recruits being subjected to punitive calisthenics. A muffled question was asked and I heard the combined voices of all those young men recite, “Skinny-fat-fat-skinny!” in response. It was at that moment I realized that the error my company was being punished for was mine. The mistake I made was failing to properly stow a uniform item—which, of course, had my name right on it. At one point, my peripheral vision alerted me to the presence of one of the recruit section leaders, peering at me through the window in the compartment door. I turned and saw holding up the uniform item that caused all the ruckus, pointing at my name stenciled on the fabric, and smiling at me.

As I stood outside, listening to everyone getting cycled, hating myself, and dreading the moment that I had to walk back into that room, you appeared, stood in front of me and said, “You WILL go to I-T!” Words that I always dreaded to hear and yet I knew that they’d catch up to me eventually.

At the end of my watch, I returned to the compartment. The drill instructors had left for the day. No one said anything to me. Then the announcement came over the 1MC: “All I-T candidates, report to the quarterdeck with your hard cards…”

I walked to the front of the compartment, stepped into the empty drill instructors’ office, grabbed my hard card—the Naval recruit’s equivalent to the mythical “Permanent Record” of our youth—and left to face the music.

As I stood at attention on the quarter deck with the other “candidates,” a drill instructor that I didn’t recognize approached us. He took my hard card, looked at it, looked at me, and asked, “Why are you here?”

All I could say was, “I fucked up, sir.”

He looked at my hard card again and said, “No, I mean, why are you here? There’s nothing written on your hard card.” All I could do was stare at him in disbelief. He looked at it again, then handed it back to me saying, quietly, “Go back to your compartment and don’t say anything.”

“Yes, sir.”

I did as I was instructed and I-T remained a dreaded mystery to me for the rest of my time at Great Lakes. Back then, I figured that you had a lot going on that day so you may have simply forgotten to record my mistake and its attendant consequences. Only now, do I wonder if you actually forgot, or if you “forgot,” because some part of you wanted to spare me the punishment you knew I was terrified of receiving.

I honestly do not want to know.


Joseph L. Puente
(Formerly) CTR3 USN