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'Lives will be lost' | Reopening schools too soon a big risk to community, educators say

Many teachers said without proper safety protocols, it will only be a matter of time until a teacher, a bus driver, or possibly a student contracts COVID-19.

NEW ORLEANS — If you think your child’s life will get back to normal when they go back to school, Jacqueline Morales said she wants you to consider the changes ahead.

“New regulations, new schedules, not eating in cafeterias, wearing face masks,” said Morales.

A teacher in Louisiana's largest public school system, Morales said she hears the calls to reopen schools closed since the pandemic shutdown. Some of those calls have come from the highest levels of power in the country.

“Kids are better off in terms of their overall health and well being in schools than out of schools,” said Vice President Mike Pence during a visit to Baton Rouge this week.

Morales said she agrees with Pence’s position but she also said bringing kids back to school in a matter of weeks seems rushed, especially when Jefferson Parish has been one of the state’s hot spots for COVID-19. She said if adults can’t follow guidelines to stop the spread, can we expect children to do so?

“It’s exposing so many different households to each other. Whether you follow the guidelines or not, these kids are going to pass by each other. They’re kids,” said Morales.

The head of the Jefferson Federation of Teachers said any political pressure to reopen schools cannot trump safety.

“Our educators should not be the pawns in a political chess match. I mean the bottom line is safety is first,” said Kesler Camese-Jones.

While some school districts have been considering or moving ahead with delaying the start of the school year, one member of the Orleans Parish School Board is recommending that all public schools in New Orleans go to virtual learning for the first quarter of the year. 

Many teachers said without proper safety protocols, it will only be a matter of time until a teacher, a bus driver, or possibly a student contracts COVID-19.

“It’s very concerning, and yes, lives will be lost. I don’t think we should put our folks in that danger,” said Camese-Jones.

Kids deserve the best learning environment, but is it fair to ask and maybe even demand teachers and staff to risk their health to deliver that? Many educators said waiting to reopen schools won’t hurt anyone, but doing so prematurely almost certainly will.

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