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Teachers Feel Overlooked as Reopening Schools Debate Rages on

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As the debate rages nationwide about how to reopen schools in the fall, the focus is usually on the children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, recently issued an opinion urging school districts to find ways to bring students back to campus full-time, five days a week, citing a plethora of reasons ranging from learning gaps created by ineffective distance learning, to social and emotional well-being. 

Teachers feel overlooked, as if their safety doesn’t matter to some politicians. 

“A hundred percent, a hundred percent, I'm gonna come into contact with 200 kids, and in essence I’m gonna come into contact with every other kid they’ve come into contact with,” said Kristin Murphy, who teaches at Nova Middle School. 

Murphy is a former Broward County Teacher of the Year. She lives for the classroom experience. 

“As much as I want to see the kids, I really want to see the kids, I think it’s a bad idea right now,” Murphy said. “When a teacher gets sick, and they will, who’s gonna take their place? Who’s gonna teach the kids?”

How many students will be in her classroom? Can social distancing really be enforced in the school environment? There are so many questions without definitive answers," she said.

“There’s just so much unknown with this for everybody, and it’s scary,” said Caitlyn Corbin, who teaches history at Deerfield Beach High School. 

Corbin’s husband is an emergency room nurse who treats COVID-19 patients every day. 

“I’m afraid I might bring it into the school and not actually know that I am bringing it into that atmosphere,” Corbin said. 

Parents from across the country are expressing conflicting emotions about school reopening plans for the fall. Some parents want to keep their children out of school until there is a vaccine while others believe that children will suffer mentally and emotionally without proper in-person instruction.

Tara Terribile has considered the COVID-19 dangers, and she’s ready to teach her students face-to-face again at West Broward High School. 

“I don’t want to catch this, and I don’t want my family to have it, but I think I’m a little bit different than some others in that I really feel we need to get the kids back to school. I know teaching online at the end of last quarter and watching my own three children, there just wasn’t the same level of education,” Terribile said.

There’s a sizable faction of parents who agree, saying regardless of the current state of the pandemic, schools can be made safe enough for kids to physically be in classrooms five days a week. 

Governor Ron DeSantis compared schools to shopping at Home Depot, and President Donald Trump threatened to cut funding from school districts who don’t reopen schools full-time. 

“I understand where the parents are coming from, I completely get it and I want to be back in the classroom as well, but I don’t know if everyone is thinking of what’s gonna happen down the road. If I do get sick, are you gonna be able to find a substitute, are the substitutes even gonna want to come in?” Corbin said. 

How do Miami-Dade teachers feel about going back to the classroom and facing students during a pandemic? NBC 6's Ari Odzer reports.

Terribile brought up some of the points made by the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

“I think there are so many other things besides just education, a lot of kids need to be in school to be in a safer environment, Terribile said. 

That is undoubtedly true, but Coconut Creek High School teacher Karen Clark says that shouldn’t be the reason to put teachers in danger. 

“Schools have become a catch-all for all of society’s issues and I think it’s time that other sectors of society stepped up, why can’t businesses and corporations provide on-site daycare for their employees?” Clark said. 

Broward County Public Schools has not yet finalized its reopening plan, but as we’ve been reporting for weeks, the district is planning to offer options similar to what Miami-Dade County Public Schools says it will offer its students: distance learning, full-time in the classroom, and a hybrid option which combines both models. 

All the teachers we’ve interviewed in the last two weeks want to teach, preferably in the classroom, they just want to be reasonably sure they can practice their profession safely. 

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