December 3, 2020 - 9:00 pm
In his recent letter, Jim Beckham Jr. wrote about possibly re-opening our schools. He referred to medical experts advising Gov. Steve Sisolak that we should not open our schools, as well as extensive data showing that we should not have closed schools in the first place. He said, “Of course, they recommend the use of masks, social distancing and tracking, but we can do those things in our schools.” Well, maybe — if only half of the students are present at any one time. Even then, it would be a challenge to keep students at least six feet apart in classrooms, hallways, cafeterias, playgrounds and restrooms. And that does not address the risks for teachers being exposed to many, many students per day.
Mr. Beckham has probably not recently visited a public school in Clark County where classes have been overcrowded for a long time. I taught in an elementary school room that had a fire safety capacity of 32 students. One of my classes had 45 children and two adult assistants in addition to me. Other classes had 38-42 students. When I brought this overcrowding to my principal’s attention, she said that the district allowed six students over the state limit for that grade, which was 26 students per class. So twenty six plus six equals 45? I don’t think so.
How would social distancing work in that setting?
More than once I tripped and fell in the classroom when I was trying to squeeze between chairs to get to a student who needed my individual attention. My colleagues teaching in high schools often had as many as 50 students in rooms with a capacity of 36 students sitting side by side. Sometimes there were more students than desks and students had to stand in the back of the room. How would social distancing be achieved in those classrooms?
It would be great if we could safely open our schools again. Distance learning leaves much to be desired. But bringing students and teachers back into school buildings will be very challenging and have added costs. I have yet to read or hear any realistic and detailed implementation plans for doing this.
I loved my 29 years of teaching in the Clark County School District. But I am now very grateful that I am retired and do not have to risk exposure to COVID-19 in a classroom. No one should have to risk such exposure to learn or to teach.