While Governor John Carney and Delaware's public health officials claim schools are safe spaces where COVID-19 isn't spreading as voraciously as it is throughout the community in general, not everyone agrees.
"No, we don't think it's a good time to reopen," said Darren Tyson, President of the Christina Education Association. "In all instances, the schools are safe until the community comes into the schools. And if the kids aren't being tested on a mandatory basis, how are we going to prevent our schools from being closed?"
Tyson doesn't think there's been enough time within schools to back up claims that COVID-19 isn't being spread there, and when children are present, he said the data shows they've run into issues. With numbers at an all-time high, he fears children would be a major source of spread to teachers and staffers.
"Last time we were open, we were open for like six days, and we had upwards of 40 cases going into the buildings," he said. "That's the issue. Are the buildings safe? Yes. But when the kids come in and are not being tested, and a lot of the kids are carrying COVID, or their homes are not COVID-responsible for what's acceptable, it's really hard to prevent the virus from spreading. But, as the governor says, it's not being spread in schools, or there has been no evidence of it. At some point, that's going to change."
Teachers who have spent their time being cautious during the pandemic are finding themselves at greater risk for exposure because of the introduction of students--particularly those from irresponsible households not taking the virus seriously--back into classrooms, doing the things students need to do through the course of a normal day.
"It's a greater issue for everybody in the building," Tyson said. "We're not utilizing the cafeterias at all, so you have kids come in and grabbing breakfast, bringing them into the classrooms. You have a lot of teachers--just from my conversation with teachers, they haven't been to a restaurant since all of this began--now they have students coming into their classroom, eating breakfast, taking their masks off, and [the teachers] just don't feel comfortable. This is just a safety issue. These are things that are really bothering teachers, and they're concerned about it."
Before ever considering reopening their doors, Tyson said officials should first be prioritizing getting Delaware's skyrocketing spread under control, and just last week the First State once again saw record highs for COVID cases.
"Just looking at the numbers, making sure that numbers are down. I mean, the most important thing is that people are safe. That's the biggest thing," he said. "You have a lot of teachers who are parents, you have a lot of teachers who are caregivers. If you have a family, you don't want to be taking something home. We know we have some teachers who, over the holiday, quarantined and couldn't even enjoy the holiday with their families because there were quarantining. It's just really important that everyone is safe, and that's all CEA is pushing for; if we're going to return safe, it would be ideal if the numbers were really down. But the numbers are the highest they've been since we've been in this pandemic."
The Christina School Board will meet on Tuesday, January 12, 2021--some members virtually, Tyson and the CEA point out, not in-person, despite the district's return to hybrid instruction with some in-person attendance at the direction of Carney and public health officials--and Tyson would like to see a large turnout from members of the community to voice their own concerns during the public comment section.
They'll be meeting in the parking lot of Gauger Cobbs Middle School at 6:30 p.m., where the meeting will be taking place. Calling it a "COVID-CONSCIOUS event," a call-to-action issued via email asked concerned parents to wear masks, socially distance, and " bring their electronic devices and link to district WiFi in order to stream the Board meeting. You may make your own signs/car decorations or obtain pre-made signs at the event to show your support." A portion of the email read:
During Public Comment is when we will be making the most noise- literally. Take this opportunity to "cheer” on your community members as they address the Board by honking your horns, blasting your music, or revving your engines. We want the Board Members inside the building to hear and feel our presence.
It's about getting attention for expressed concerns that Tyson felt have fallen, so far, on deaf ears.
"I think that what they want to do is just get their attention. It seems like anytime that we have talked to the board in the past few months, we don't get any answers, we don't get any responses. It's kind of just straight laced," Tyson said. "We just want them to have a voice in these decision-makings as well. I think they just want them to understand that this doesn't just affect one person, it affects a lot of people. We have 1,200 members in CEA that teach in the Christina School District. So, if it affects one person, it affects a lot of us."