The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, August 11, 2020 1:00 am

Don't open, FWCS board hears

Teachers union chief says Thursday return too soon

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

A tornado warning gave the Fort Wayne Education Association president a captive audience Monday as she pleaded for district leaders to rethink their plan of welcoming students to classrooms Thursday.

The Fort Wayne Community Schools board and administrators listened to public comment from Sandra Vohs while huddled in the basement of the downtown administration building.

Board members hastily adjourned the meeting in the ground-floor board room in response to the weather warning. The district's lead nurse had just finished summarizing for the board the strategies FWCS is using to reduce the spread of COVID-19. FWCS reported last week that about 70% of students have chosen to come to school this fall while about 30% have picked the fully remote option.

Vohs, the teachers union president, suggested alternatives to the current Return to Learn plan – including starting the academic year exclusively with e-learning – because, she said, Allen County coronavirus statistics are concerning.

The Allen County Department of Health said Monday 34 additional residents have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Allen County to 3,964. The total number of Allen County deaths attributed to coronavirus remained at 162.

“We don't think that anybody should be reopening right now based just on the community (coronavirus trends),” Vohs said. “I think we've got a great plan when things are better. But things aren't better right now, and it's naive to think that once kids get into the buildings that we're going to be able to follow everything.”

Mary Hess, director of health and wellness, acknowledged in her board presentation that the guiding principles – stay home when sick, social distancing, assigned seats, mask requirements, hand washing and disinfection – aren't as simple as they seem.

“It's more than just understanding the concepts, but it's applying them and really trying to get behavior change,” Hess said. “Anybody that's tried to lose 10 pounds knows that that's not as easy as it sounds.”

Educators' dedication illustrates why it will be difficult to get people to stay home when sick or after close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, Hess said.

“These are teachers we're talking about,” Hess said, “and there is not a harder working group of people on the planet. It's against their nature to stay home.”

Teachers aren't worried only about troubling local health trends. They feel underprepared, Vohs said. They are figuring out how to balance students learning remotely and those learning in person along with various logistical matters, including lunchroom schedules.

“We're just not ready,” Vohs said. “If we start when we don't have a strong foundation, we're just asking for things to fall apart.”

As is typical during public comment, board members did not respond to Vohs' remarks, and neither did the superintendent.

Vohs described teachers as panicked. She shared the story of a teacher clearing out her classroom Friday and others who decided to retire now instead of waiting until next year as planned.

“We are going to keep losing teachers if we don't listen to them,” Vohs said.

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