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.

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