By Dawn Levey
As a public school teacher of 30 years, I have always been filled with great excitement and anticipation about a new school year. At this point every year, I find myself eager to meet a new group of students and explore new learning opportunities with them.
This year, that excitement is accompanied by great anxiety with so many uncertainties about safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic. I recently turned 65, and my profession requires me to work face-to-face with my students. This puts me at higher risk for infection and facing serious health consequences if I test positive.
I have worked tirelessly with my 25 incoming seniors at the Ovid-Elsie Area Schools alternative high school to ensure they remain on track to graduate in 2021. Long before the pandemic, I promised them I would provide whatever additional one-on-one attention they may need to complete their coursework and graduate on time.
I intend to keep that promise, regardless what this school year looks like. Now it’s time for decision makers to step up and do what is necessary to ensure my safety and that of my students, colleagues and their families.
As a front-line educator, it deeply offends me to hear people argue all of our kids should simply return to in-person learning this fall, with almost no regard for health and safety. Most of these people have never stepped foot in a classroom to teach.
To safely return to school, we must have clear and consistent standards for how to prevent, and heaven forbid, respond to future COVID-19 outbreaks in our schools. These decisions must be guided by the advice of health experts. If they say it’s unsafe, we simply shouldn’t do it.
Committed, front-line educators like myself must have a voice in any decisions about safely returning to school. We have expertise and knowledge and can be part of the solution if we are included in the decision-making process.
To effectively return to school, we must make our top priority the educational, mental and physical well-being of our students. This means ensuring we can meet their unique needs when they return to the classroom, and supporting them as they reengage with their classmates and potentially face new emotional and physical challenges due to the pandemic.
Here in rural central Michigan, the digital divide is a major concern, with our students having limited access to digital technology and broadband service. To provide all Michigan students with a high-quality, equitable education, we must ensure they have access to the technology needed to succeed.
We know this won’t be free or cheap. And, we’re rapidly running out of time.
We desperately need federal funding, in particular, to help close the digital divide, provide necessary Personal Protective Equipment, and ensure social distancing guidelines are met, among other higher costs we face.
We have one chance to get this right. Let’s not squander it.
Dawn Levey is a teacher in Ovid-Elsie Area Schools.
Editor’s Note: MEA is committed to helping members raise their voices for safety in returning to school. This piece is one of several written by MEA members sharing their thoughts and concerns, as published in the Detroit Free Press. Stay tuned to MEA.org and local media outlets for more.
Other Member Voices For Safety
Kathleen Dillon-Dowd on MEA.org: Schools Must Require Masks for All Grades
Bill Daniels in Bridge Magazine: Michigan educators like me must be heard in school reopening talks
Greg Talberg in Detroit News: Whitmer listened to educators for school reopening plans
Chris Thomas in Bridge Michigan: Dear Betsy DeVos and Michigan Lawmakers: Here’s what educators need
Randi Trumble in Lansing State Journal: As others try and fail, are Lansing schools ready for in-person learning?
Andy Jarema in Macomb Daily: Put frontline educators on front lines of decision making