By Andy Jarema
In the weeks leading up to the start of the school year, I felt great anxiety as COVID-19 continued to rage across Michigan and the first day of school neared. That feeling deepened when my district decided to begin in-person learning less than a month after we began the school year remotely.
After just four days of in-person instruction, there were two reported COVID-19 cases in Warren Woods Public Schools, where I teach band and music to more than 500 K-6 students. My district only informed staff and families with students in the schools where the cases were identified. I wasn’t aware of the reported COVID-19 cases until I read about them in the news.
Throughout the summer, I waited for my district to engage teachers and staff in developing a game plan for a safe return to in-person learning. As a music instructor, I work closely with my students every day and had my own insights on a safe return to school.
I was asked to provide input in safety committee meetings this summer, only to be met with shaking heads, an unwillingness to compromise, and statements like, “Andy, 3 feet of social distancing is sufficient.” As a teacher, I felt like I had no say in how any of these plans were put into motion.
I have no doubt my district had the best interests of our students, families and public school employees at heart when drafting our Return to Learn plan. However, front-line educators were left out of the equation, and we are putting our lives at risk daily to ensure our kids receive a world-class education. We were also left out of the loop on critical updates that would have helped us plan accordingly to protect the health and safety of our students, staff and families.
We owe it to our students to do everything in our power to continue providing face-to-face learning, but our teachers, support staff and other public school employees must have a seat at the table. We know the specific needs and challenges our students face, and are in the best position to help them succeed during these challenging times.
In addition to following the guidance of health experts, our school leaders must also heed the input of the education experts — Michigan’s public school employees.
As we’ve seen in recent weeks, districts across Michigan have been forced to make decisions based on reported cases of COVID-19 and other pandemic-related developments in their communities.
Moving forward, these decisions must include the input of frontline educators like myself to ensure Michigan families and their children receive the quality education they expect and deserve.
Andy Jarema is a band and music teacher in Warren Woods Public 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 Macomb Daily. 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
Dawn Levey in Detroit Free Press: Give me the resources to get back into the classroom
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?
Bill Daniels in Bridge Michigan: Michigan educators like me must be heard in school reopening talks