Returning to School, or Not?!

Updated: Sep 23



Hey Everyone, my name is Kris Metea, and welcome to What’s Cooking with Coach? Thank you for reading and tuning in.


I am going to discuss a hot topic today. Buckle-up! It is the middle of the summer, so you know what that means?


School is about to start, or isn’t it? Traditionally-speaking, within the next week, students from across the country will grab their back packs on hop on buses, get in their cars, or tie their shoes and begin the journey of the new school year. It is an exciting time of the year. Forget January 1st, the school year marks the beginning of all things new and the great opportunities on the horizon. But wait, it does not feel exciting at all.


Why? I think we all know why. We are amid a pandemic, whether you want to believe in it or not. Spare me the arguments on both sides. I have heard them all. It does not affect that many people, or it is too dangerous to do anything. The virus has done one thing, divide the country even more politically and ideologically that it was before. The forefront of this argument has become schools. From pre-school to college and universities, the decisions to counteract the virus and ensure safety has uprooted the educational system as we know it.


There is an estimated 87 million people that were/are expected to go back to school campuses this fall. This includes students, teachers, professors, administration, and support staff. That is 1 in 4 Americans (328 Million population). It is expected that 2/3 to ¾ of Americans will be directly affected by the school decisions. Parents, guardians, siblings, relatives, bosses, co-workers. It can be argued that schools being in session are the single-most important factor for the progress and economy of the United States.

Breakdown: 20 Million College Students and 57 Million Pre-K to High School Students.


As a result, the Education system has been at the forefront of the news, and deservedly so. Anything that directly affects ¾ of all Americans deserves that attention. The argument comes from whether schools should open this fall. More importantly, should schools open up during a pandemic. Should schools open during a pandemic that has only affected 1% of the world. I am not here to argue that. I am just going to point the importance of education and highlight points of both arguments.


There are several topics that I will mention during this piece/podcast.


Topic #1 “Teachers Unions are putting up a fight to go back to school”

Topic #2 “Funding of Schools”

Topic #3 Remote Learning was a failure, and we cannot do it again.

Topic #4 Students need to be in school for the social impact of it.

Topic #5 The science says that students do not feel the effects as much as adults, and rarely infect teachers.

Topic #6 Teachers as “Essential” Workers

Topic #7 Logistics no one thinks about

Topic #8 Arguments Against Teachers

Conclusion – Personal Opinion


Topic #1 “Teachers Unions are putting up a fight to go back to school”.


Teacher unions across the country are debating with local, state, and national officials about whether to open up schools, and how to do that safely. “Safe” is becoming word used in relative context. Everyone’s definition of safe can vary. What is safe? That argument can come at another time, and I do not want to divert from the key points.

Teachers are putting up a fight about the standards to which schools will be opened up. The guidelines that are released by the CDC (Center for Disease Control), the Teacher Unions, and local and state governments are not on the same page. It can definitely be confusing for people to interpret how schools will go about implementing these policies.

A vast majority of teachers want to go back to work. There is a reason they became teachers. They want to help educate kids and help them get to a better life. The empathy teachers have towards children can be pretty remarkable. With that said, there are, no doubt, teachers that do not want to go back, and will ride this wave and receive a check. Like any situation, we cannot label a large group for the behaviors of a small minority. This argument has gone on for a long time and I must use police officers. There are some actions taken by law enforcement that do not depict a huge group. Shout out to law enforcement, your job is not easy. I would go further in my thankfulness for them, but I want to stick to schools.

Political policy and the handling of the pandemic has led to huge double-standards that have affect the population. People must continue moving forward, but without the resources and job security that was once present. I cannot speak for all states and their re-opening protocols; there are simply too many. However, I can use local policies that have restricted capacities for businesses and public venues. Large congregations of people from churches, to concerts and sporting events have been restricted or banned outright. Restaurants are limited to less than 50% capacity indoors with proper spacing. Banks can only hold limited people that must be six feet apart. I am sure we all can come up with more examples of how public policy has affected us all.

Educators alike cannot understand the push for a full re-open when certain public venues and private businesses have such restrictions in place. Schools will hold hundreds to thousands of people in each day, with less space than is provided in the above examples. There is not much restriction on the outdoors. I am all for outdoor schooling. Imagine the sun of the face while you learn? But I am not a weatherman and cannot predict the weather.

Whether we agree with the policies that have been laid out or not, they are there, and schools cannot, and justifiably should not be expected to be treated any different that other venues affected by government policy. Policies have dictated with numbers and spacing on what is safe, and schools need to follow suit. The key point to this is that the current policies influencing businesses and restaurants also take children and teenagers into account. Policies did not change for businesses because children entered their buildings. This is a huge double-standard when people argue that kids do not feel the effects of the virus.

Teachers want to go back to school (Most do, as I mentioned). People are creatures of habit. Teachers are no different. The structure of the day-to-day gives people sanity. 2020 has been the year of no structure and we can see the ill effects of it. Teachers want to know that it is safe, based on policies set forth. Once it is determined safe, teachers will get back to work. No questions asked.

Topic #2 “Funding of Schools”


Now this is a hot topic! I have heard it all from teachers are overpaid, to schools are grossly underfunded, to resources are not being used properly. I cannot agree or disagree vehemently with any of these statements. Some districts pay teachers very well. Some districts do not pay well at all. Some teachers deserve way more many than they get based on effort. Some teachers probably do not deserve the amount they receive. Schools have always been at the mercy of public funding and have had to make do with the resources made available under the guidelines that bureaucrats create. Anyone could generalize areas of the state or country and make a fairly good assertion on which schools are funded well and which, maybe, are not. Let’s not mistake highly funded schools as good schools and under-funded schools are bad. They can flip-flop pretty easily.

I can assure that schools are not funded evenly. Most people do not know how schools are funded. Most are funded on municipal taxes (Real Estate). The remainder of monies are distributed based on need by the state and federal governments respectively through other taxes instituted, most predominantly sales tax.

Schools across the country are reporting being under budget, and due to that have made cuts to programs and personnel. Many ask why? Well, the shutdowns across the country had a large effect on tax revenues for each state. Massachusetts for example saw a 50% reduction in tax revenues in the month of April. That simply means that districts, especially high-needs districts, were going to see a drop in state funding for the upcoming school year. And It happened.

Then the guidelines from across the states about bus restrictions, classroom restrictions, the needs for personal protective equipment came in. Now schools that already saw decreases in funding will now have to educate students with recommended smaller class sizes, a decrease in support personnel, and limited space. It is a tall order. An order that districts across the country have taken on and done pretty well given the circumstances. It is still a tall ask, but educators always seem to find a way.

Arguments that have come to a head include: If schools are not open fully, people want their tax dollars back. People want to use their tax dollars to get vouchers and do school choice or use it for private education. Teachers and support staff should take wage freezes or cuts. Remote Learning was a failure and cannot happen again. Schools need to be open for kids to be social; they need the social aspect of school.

Let us dive into the arguments that revolve around funding:


  1. If schools do not open, people want their tax dollars back.

I would argue most people do not know how much money it costs districts per pupil. So, hear it is, on average, it is $15,000 per student per year. Some districts more, some less. This all depends on how much extra local communities add to their school district’s budget. Giving people back $15,000 per child would be a tall ask.


84% of tax revenues across the country come from the top 25% of households. Mindboggling to think about. To be at the top 25%, a single person, or household must account for $60,000 of taxable income. That is not a lot of money! This might bring to light why $75,000 was the limit for stimulus checks. That was money given to more than 75% of households.


Taxes fund a variety of things from schools, to public offices, to roads, and buildings. The list is huge. Every person pays taxes to fund these projects. Whether we agree with the costs or how the money is spent is a loaded topic for another day. Majority of students, especially under-funded districts come from the bottom 75% of money households. ¾ of students come from families that do not make a ton of money. At most, according to current tax brackets, a 60,000 a year household would pay roughly $13,000 in income taxes. This does not include sales or excise taxes. Still though, you can see that it would be impossible to repay tax dollars for a voucher system to families directly, especially if there is more than one child in the home.

It would be unrealistic to give tax credits or money back to families. 15,000, 30,000, 45,000, 60,000 to each family, especially if the tax payments do not equal that cost. It would be even more difficult for anyone to argue this point if they do not pay substantially more than the cost per pupil in taxes.


Now if you use the money for school-choice. It is pretty understood that even private schools are finding ways to do remote learning. Most schools will adopt this practice until the “new normal” is here. It is not going away. Even home-schooling deals with an online curriculum. It comes down to who will the students during the day.


Another key component is certification. Teachers jump through hoops to become certified and then keep their certification. Will parents or private schools have to gain certifications if they want their “tax dollars” back? As it stands many teachers get waivers every year to fill the need for districts. Another issue with school-choice is transportation and seats available. Equitable education access would be shuttered. That is the guiding policy in monetary decision-making and distribution in schools.


On a different note, when a person chooses a city or state to live in, they choose it under the circumstance that they will help benefit that area, not exploit it. This includes a child’s education, more so that are not as privileged. There is an ideology that education is a collective endeavor that needs to be funded properly to raise up the youth. Some need more funding than others unfortunately.


Education cannot become a meritocracy for those than can pay to get the best opportunity. That will not suit the future of the country.


2. Teachers should take a pay freeze or pay cut to balance the budget.

Not a bad idea, but the teacher’s unions would never allow that. As a teacher, I have no problem taking a pay freeze or pay cut to collectively benefit the population. However, if educators take a cut, all municipalities and public workers would have to take a cut to balance the budget. That would mean police, fire, city workers, local elected leaders, and other union workers. All unions are pretty opposed to this, so it would be a moot point to expect teachers “take one for the team” to benefit the municipal budgets. Attacking one Union essentially means you are willing to attack all unions. That is a slippery slope.


80% of most school budgets are salaries and health benefits, including retirees. Cutting school budgets even more would be cutting health lifelines for people, especially older people in the COVID highest risk category.


Topic #3 Remote Learning was a failure, and we cannot do it again.

Remote learning for students and staff was exceedingly difficult. As I mentioned earlier, teachers crave structure, and remote learning was not it. Remote learning put hardships on parents like they had never seen before. The arguments are absolutely in place that in-person learning is the best. There is no questioning that. We would all like to go back to the way things were. I can assure you that, for now, elected officials, tax dollars, public policy, and the growth of technology will not allow it. Lets be honest, the major tech titans (Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook stand to make more money if we stay remote).


Let me give remote learning context. Imagine taking away a barber’s tools and giving him/her a pair of two dull blades and saying make it work, out of nowhere, in the midst of economic chaos. I am sure it will take some time and practice and a lot of effort, but the barber will learn to do it. Or maybe they will just give up. Who knows?


Remote learning was a complete 180 direction change in the middle of a stressful time where people lost jobs. Not all students had access to learning. High needs students were even more disadvantaged. Parents who may not understand the material (or the language) needed to be a teacher/helper. There were connection problems, absentee problems, and accountability problems. Life as we knew it was changed and no one knew what to do. It was attempted, and it was a major struggle.

Making it more difficult was the accountability piece. How were teachers and administrators going to tell kids that they were not going pass a grade, a class, or graduate, when we were in the midst of a pandemic, parents may have lost their job, and the standards of “No Child Left Behind” were never going to be adequately followed during an unprecedented time? Students called the bluff on schoolwork and won.


Oh, it was a failure alright! It was not for lack of effort, but, in short, for the timing and lack of preparation. It was acceptable at the time because it was the only choice. However, given the circumstances I do not know of too many other choices that could have worked.


Technology has developed enough to put us in a place to progress education. Remote learning can have its benefits. Some students work well in that setting. Some students were able to work more hours and then do schoolwork. I saw some students do better work online than they did in class. Maybe peer pressure kept them back? All I know is that given a chance, a lot of training, patience, and a collective effort, remote learning can be beneficial.

Remember, for those that think teachers will not work: Someone must develop the online curriculum. Teachers most likely, I would say.


Topic #4 Students need to be in school for the social impact of it.

Schools have always been a great place where kids learn how to socialize with one another and adults, how to work in groups, and to learn life-lessons. With the standards and budget constraints but on education systems, will students get the same social impact they had before?


I cannot imagine kids being separated, not being able to touch each other, wearing a mask, and likely not having sports or clubs to participate will make school the social entity it was before. Kids will likely be expected to stay in the same room, with the same kids, with the same teacher all day. There will not be much socializing. With the new health standards in place, it will be difficult to keep everyone in line, let alone learn properly and socialize.


Budget cuts make extracurricular activities and events problematic. Those situations are where kids socialized the most.


The warning must be heeded: School will not be the same this year, or in coming years, no matter how bad you want it to be.

Topic #5 The science says that students do not feel the effects as much as adults, and rarely infect teachers.

That may be cited in studies. I am sure there are reasons that it was published. I am all for science. We are amid the greatest science experiment in human history. The change of “facts” and data is derived from the reality that this is the scientific method is being played out in front of our eyes. Science changes every day with new information. When a new solution arises, so does a potential new problem. The cycle then continues. So, if you are just as frustrated as I am regarding the “facts” I empathize with you. There is nothing worse than hearing one thing, then being told the opposite not too long after.


In reality, we are 6-7 months in to knowing about COVID-19. We still do not know much about it. It has taken science years and decades to overcome pandemics before. I cannot expect there to be an overnight solution.


But, let’s talk about the apparent COVID vaccinations that are being rushed, but will be complete by January, and that upwards to 50% of people do not want to take!


There is changing data on how it is spread, who it effects the most, and the long-term effects on people. It is extremely hard to make decisions when all the knowledge is just not there to make a safe one.


“Schools in other countries were successful”. And they were not. The schools that were successful were from countries that have higher tax rates and a more collaborative approach to education. Even with that said, outbreaks still occurred and shut down again, and it is too hard to predict what will happen in the U.S.

Topic #6 Teachers as “Essential” Workers


You want a loaded topic? Here you go. Essential workers have been labeled in the purpose of keeping progress going in some facet. Workers that provide a direct living service have been classified as essential. Essential workers have been granted the ability to work regularly during the pandemic, with obvious safety guidelines in place.


Teachers have not been labeled “Essential”. The local retailers and billion-dollar companies have essential employees though. As it stands, essential employees are allowed at work, in large part because their job cannot be done online. Teachers have not been given that label. I can assure you, they never will. In a world divided by political ideas and chess piece maneuvering, labeling educators as “Essential” employees would be the equivalent of exposing the King purposefully to your opponent during a game of chess.


Why, you ask? In short, it will become a large bargaining chip. As it stands, unions across the country are vigorously negotiating terms with local elected leaders and administrations about contracts. Once labeled essential, teachers unions could very well demand hazard pay, extra benefits, more funding, and better yet, the proposed $450 per week return to work pay that is being proposed as a part of the new stimulus package (HEALS Act).

Well, teachers have a job already. Why would they qualify for the return to work? Simple, teachers are contracted workers on yearly school schedule. That contract schedule ended at the end of the last school year (May or June). Technically speaking, teachers are out of a job until school starts. They would be returning to work. However, elected officials already determined that remote learning was adequate in the spring, so do teachers have to go back? These are big what ifs and questions to answer.


Topic #7 Logistics no one thinks about


Re-opening schools sounds simple. It is not. There are a lot more issues that people do not discuss. Businesses already went through their logistical nightmare. Schools are going through it now.

Some questions raised to think about:

  • How will sick time be applied to teachers? More so, when guidelines say stay home if feeling sick or have symptoms. Even so, how do you prove symptoms? This is especially important for teachers that plan on maternity or paternity leave that is sick time is being banked for that.

  • How will we know that all safety standards are being met? What is the accountability for those that do not follow guidelines? Can we boot teachers and students from the building?

  • What is the policy should there be an infected person, and what defines close contact with that person? Are people in close contact expected to quarantine 10-14 days and then do remote learning? Are teachers expected to teach during quarantine?

  • Will tests be required? Who pays? The under-funded school district, health insurance, the state?

  • That leads to Substitutes. If you thought teachers were in short supply. Subs are in greater need. Subs do not have a contract. What are their safety protections? If no subs, are we forcing educators to cover classes and increase contact risk that already have measures in place to mitigate?

  • What are the school’s liabilities? If someone contracts the virus and dies while working in schools, the liability could be through the roof, especially when remote learning is presented as an option.

  • Without knowing the long-term effects of COVID, could a person that displays these effects qualify for worker’s comp or disability? Is suing a possibility?

  • Will workers receive hazard pay or return to work pay? (Essential workers: Health care field, I support you all getting it, even though you likely are not).

  • There are concerns about double planning. Broadcasting classrooms to remote learners is a violation of privacy and has never been allowed in schools. Double-planning is more work and must be collectively bargained.

  • All these things must be collectively bargained with unions. Do not worry, all unions do this, police, fire, etc. This is not a teacher only thing.


There is more red tape and guidelines than people realize. The largest complaints often come from people that, frankly, are unaware of all of them.

Topic #8 Arguments Against Teachers

I really cannot come up with much other than two big thoughts. The first, just like a lot of people, teachers can be on a high-horse and think they are more important that they might be. This is all perspective. I am not here to argue perspective of importance. The Teacher Union fight is political. Make no mistake. It has everything to do with fighting the perceived double-standards that current policies have created, but not about working with kids.

The second thought is that many teachers, excluding those of elder age or those that were born with pre-existing conditions that place them in high-risk category, may have brought their high-risk category upon themselves. It sounds cold-hearted but factors such as BMI, drinking-induced problems, unhealthy-eating induced problems, and substance use/smoking-induced can be mitigated and suppressed by more healthy behaviors of teachers. Teachers are human and will partake in destructive decisions like anyone else. A person’s health is environmental, as it is personal, and personal choices that have impacted health later in life can be construed as that person’s fault. We live in a very unhealthy society (conversation for a later day). Another Example: Healthcare workers may exhibit destructive behaviors while promoting health, do what I say, not as I do.


Conclusion

Part 1: Schools are valuable. They are more important than many would like to admit. Are they perfect, no? That can be said for any sector of this country. Schools opening see a challenge like never before, in a world that we have never seen before.

It is difficult to move forward when many policy decisions are being made by people that have never worked in a school. However, as a taxpayer, they can voice their opinion. That is what America is, the right to have a thought, and to speak it.

Schools need to be safe and secure places where its students can learn and become better people. We are just living in an unsure time. The irony of it all is that the students that need school the most come from families that are the greatest risk of contracting the virus, with limited health care options, in an era where they need their paycheck the most. Pro sports bubbles, with all their money cannot even prevent the virus, so safety can never be assured.

The government has already passed stimulus and support acts for businesses but limit the funds that go to schools during a time that sees the most restrictive guidelines in education history being assigned. States, including Massachusetts (3.5 Billion), have rainy-day funds. It is pouring! However, it is quite understandable why those rainy-day funds are not being dipped in. Elected officials know the worst is yet to come. If they knew things would get better, the money would be used, and we would all be on our way.

The virus has exposed fractures in American society that are the deeper root problem than schools opening back up. From the political division, to the inequities of public funding across the country, to the societal construct that has made two-income households a necessity, and schools a place to house children as such.

It is becoming pretty apparent that we ALL will need to sacrifice in some capacity to get through the COVID virus, and the subsequent economic upheaval. It is difficult to learn to sacrifice when there is so much division upon an end-goal. Remember, division is profitable, whether it is money or power. Angering one group can empower one constituency. Numbers can easily be distorted to facilitate one group’s argument in favor of another (and I am sure people reading/listening can say I have done the same).

The idea that one person or group is more important than other goes against every homeostasis theory there is. The fighting of the virus and the movement of the economy became more about power and politics than it ever was for humanity. The two have not been, nor will ever be connected.


Part 2: “Criticism without a solution is simply a complaint”. Everyone has an opinion, but very few give a thought out and coherent plan to resolve it. With that said, I have my own suggestions which I will outline momentarily (although not in depth).

Children are our greatest asset, but we need to invest time and money in them. All Children, not just some.


Fundamentally, everyone needs to get on-board with kids getting an education this year. I believe that all kids learn differently and that there will be benefits of all proposed school models, in-school, hybrid, or remote. Some kids need school. They need the structure. Getting into a building and having that teacher-student interaction is the most-beneficial to them. Those students, the high needs, and the ones that want to be in school, should absolutely attend, with safety measures in place.

Some students do not need that teacher interaction every day, but a check-in will certainly work. These students are independent and value learning on their own time. The hybrid model works well. This gives kids enough time to get feedback but use their time elsewhere when needed. This is the current college model and great for kids who have time-management, or parents that can be present a few days a week.

Other students would prefer remote learning. There are extreme benefits such as making their own schedule, being home and comfortable (lets face it, not all kids like being in school).

All three options should be developed and maintained by schools. There must be standards set with it, but for the most part we will be providing an option that is best for each family and student.

There are logistical concerns that would need to be discussed, but it would be manageable for teachers. Smaller class sizes during the day, potential check-ins, and checking in on remote learning work. This can be adjusted to fill work quotas and make it equitable.

Our world is vastly different than the one in March. It will forever be that way. We cannot expect education to go back to the way it was, but we can work together to get through the changes that are making our lives a little more stressful.

I appreciate you taking the time to read and/or listen. Feel free to send me any feedback, comments, concerns. Kristopher.metea@gmail.com. I am always willing to engage in meaningful debate and development of progress-based solutions.

Thank you and have a great day!

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