Author: Ben McKinney, Hybrid (In Person) 3rd Grade Teacher – SPS186

Publication: Illinois Times – January 14, 2021

I teach third grade at a school with a diverse student population in a neighborhood of working-class people. I have been in this school nearly a decade now, and I have come to know the businesses and families I serve.

I want my students in class. I want to be in class; I signed up to be a hybrid teacher. I miss the scent of freshly sharpened pencils, seeing the light bulb go on over their heads as they grasp a new concept and the gritty feel of whiteboard markers on my fingers. I miss it all and I want my kids back – but not yet.

I’m so ready for school to start that I even helped District 186 work through making plans, but the whole time we were doing that there was an understanding that success in returning to school meant starting from a place where all those plans would have the best chance of success. That starting line had metrics attached and I was proud of that, thinking members of the union and the administration had come together to ensure all of our safety.

When it became clear that the metrics were rigorous, the school board lost its way, twice. The school board first weakened those metrics and finally did away with them altogether. Now we are going to return when numbers are rising with the knowledge that kids and teachers will get sick. It appears that while I can do a lot to protect my students from fires, allergens, asthma, abuse and a whole range of other things (with a smaller chance of happening than getting COVID-19 at school), I can’t keep them safe from the misguided actions of local bureaucrats.

In-person schooling can be successful, if it starts when community spread is low. As I write this, community, state and national spread is all heading in the wrong direction.

The school board should immediately change course and engage once again in a scientific approach to reopening by holding to the metrics originally set. They should heed the warnings from teachers and building administrators who have made it clear that while of course we can go back, it is not yet safe to do so and the building blocks upon which this plan was created are no longer in place.

Let’s not wait to act until it is too late, like most schools do. Let the science and data guide our decisions.

Ben McKinney