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Don’t reopen Baltimore schools until there is a vaccine | COMMENTARY

Ryan Mason, a teacher at Hazelwood Elementary/Middle School, and daughters, Rhayne Marie, 10, left, and Zyion Mason, 11, both city school students, joined other teachers, students, and school staff outside North Avenue school headquarters at a rally organized by the Baltimore Teachers Union and the Parent Community Advisory Board to advocate that schools remain virtual through 2020. Speakers enumerated the various health risks and logistical difficulties of opening schools now.
Ryan Mason, a teacher at Hazelwood Elementary/Middle School, and daughters, Rhayne Marie, 10, left, and Zyion Mason, 11, both city school students, joined other teachers, students, and school staff outside North Avenue school headquarters at a rally organized by the Baltimore Teachers Union and the Parent Community Advisory Board to advocate that schools remain virtual through 2020. Speakers enumerated the various health risks and logistical difficulties of opening schools now. (Amy Davis)

I am currently in my ninth year of teaching for Baltimore City Public Schools. I’m proud to say that I currently teach at a school with strong leaders who work incredibly hard to meet the needs of staff and students. But my experience wasn’t always like that.

Many, or dare I say most, Baltimore City Schools aren’t like that. More often than not, the most basic sanitation needs in schools were not met even before the coronavirus was added to the equation. And more than most people realize, year in and year out, teachers have used their own resources to cover the shortfalls.

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For those unaware of what this might look like, here’s a typical day from my experience: You walk into your classroom around 7 a.m. and take a seat at your desk. You use a Clorox wipe that you purchased with your own money to clean the mouse droppings off your desk before you open your laptop. The copier is broken. Again. So you make your copies for the day on your little laser printer. You see, the copier is down quite a lot. And you need papers for your students to write on, so you “invested” in your own. And the paper in it? You bought that too.

The room is already hot. There’s no air conditioning. And no windows. So, you strategically place four fans that you purchased, again with your own money, around your classroom so that you and your students can get some relief from the heat. The floors weren’t swept last night. Again. You grab your broom, again that you purchased with your own money, out of the closet and quickly clean up before the kids arrive.

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You check the duct tape on the door latch to make sure that you and your students won’t get locked in the room again. Your teammate called out sick so you ask if there’s a sub, but you already know the answer. Her homeroom is going to be split into three other classes. You will now have 10 to 12 extra students per class, and the classes are extended by 20 minutes. You move desks from the absent team member’s classroom so you have a place for every student to sit, and quickly add another activity to your lesson plan to account for the extra time.

You step into the hallway to greet your students. You teach. If it’s spring or summer, everyone is sweating. You make a list for passes to get water. One at a time students go. Then the secretary comes on the announcements. “We’re out of water until the delivery next week,” she says. Oh, you’re thinking kids can just drink from the water fountains? Not in Baltimore City. The pipes are made of lead.

It’s finally planning time and you go to use the bathroom. There’s no soap. Again. You come back to your classroom to use the hand sanitizer that you have out for kids to use, that again, you paid for yourself. You try to make copies for tomorrow’s lesson and next week’s homework. Copier is still down. Little laser printer it is. But don’t make any mistakes; you had to buy that paper yourself.

You keep teaching. It’s hot. So hot. There’s another damn cockroach. A student volunteers to kill it this time. You keep going with your lesson until the bell finally rings. Students dismissed. You smile and tell them goodbye, that you’ll see them tomorrow. Then you clean up for the next day, when you’ll do it all over again.

Baltimore City schools didn’t take steps to ensure safe and clean working and learning environments BEFORE the pandemic. What makes you think that they will keep us safe now? Will we really be given N-95 masks when we couldn’t even get soap in the bathrooms a few months ago? Aside from the lack of supplies for maintaining the most basic hygiene practices in our schools, the buildings are old. The HVAC systems are old. The ventilation systems cannot prevent this aerosolized virus from staying in the air.

Returning to in-person school is not safe and will result in the deaths of children and teachers. There is no question about that. Please join me in demanding that Baltimore City Schools stay virtual until a vaccine is readily available.

Delilah Holmes (lilahmholmes@gmail.com) is a Baltimore City Public Schools teacher.

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