Parents, Teachers and Administrators Concerned about COVID-19 Protocols

By Theresa Ho

This school year is filled with uncertainty due to the Delta variant of COVID-19, which the CDC has warned is more than two times as contagious and can possibly cause more severe symptoms than previous variants.

John Whiteside, a parent with four children – two in college, one in high school, and one in middle school – said that he wants his kids to have in-person learning but wants to make sure that schools have comprehensive plans for preventative measures against COVID-19.

“The masks are one thing, but you hope that the schools are checking for temperatures and the symptoms people have when they’re sick,” Whiteside said. “We’re just trying to prep them to think logically about constantly washing their hands, staying sanitary, social distancing. But you know, its kids, so ultimately they’re gonna mix.”

Though he is concerned about his children’s safety, he wants his kids to be able to live their lives as normally as possible. He and his wife try to keep their kids healthy mentally. Most of them are athletes, so they go beyond the school day to do athletics and participate in other activities. According to Whiteside, most of his family is also vaccinated, and they are trying to follow CDC guidelines. He himself is not vaccinated, but he plans on getting the vaccine soon for work.

One Colorado parent, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed frustration that different schools have different COVID-19 prevention protocols. As a parent of four children, ages 16, 18, 20, and 21, she said that she receives so many messages from schools that it is difficult to keep track of what the current mandates are. For example, some of her kids need to wear masks while others do not.

“Primarily, the schools are trying to require fully-vaccinated individuals, but there’s always a loophole because you can just submit a personal exemption in place of it and then be okay,” the parent said. “No one is really requiring the vaccine and saying, ‘You will not be able to attend class without it. We just need your status so that we know.’”

According to the parent, three of her children have opted for personal exemptions so that they do not have to get vaccinated, but she and her 18 year-old daughter are fully vaccinated.

“They are more comfortable just wearing masks if that’s the requirement. They don’t seem to mind them, but with them being on social media constantly, they get the good, the bad, the ugly out there … they’re just not comfortable with the vaccine,” the parent said.

She said that she is not really bothered that her kids do not want to get vaccinated because she did not expect to be vaccinated herself, but her job required her to be.

“I’ve sort of been with the same persuasion … For many, many years I’ve never even gotten the flu vaccine. I’ve never gotten any optional vaccines for my kids. Not a huge advocate of that,” she said. “I’ve got adult children, basically, so I can’t say, ‘you get this or else.’ I didn’t want it myself. But I had to modify my plan. But yeah, they’re really not budging.”

She has also seen some of her children struggle with virtual learning and worried all summer that the three children that are not vaccinated would not be able to attend classes without the vaccine.

“The girls did fine with the virtual,” the parent said. “The boys, they’re learning style was much more in person: ‘I need to see it and feel it and hear it.’ It was hard for them to grasp the virtual. I think my college-age sophomore, at the time, felt like he was being robbed of the college experience.”

The parent also added that last year, she and three of her kids contracted COVID-19, but they were fine.

“It wasn’t anything … it sort of passed through the household, and that was it,” she said.

Layered Mitigation to Protect Students in School

Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, was a guest on SiriusXM POTUS, where she spoke with host Laura Coates about topics like reopening schools as well as vaccine and mask mandates.

During the conversation, Weingarten said, “It’s a matter of getting our kids back and making sure that they thrive. And if it requires being in masks in schools, let’s make sure there’s good ventilation, let’s make sure we can be outside and have some mask breaks, but ultimately it’s more important to get them in school and to keep them safe.”

According to her, schools need to have a layered mitigation system of vaccinations, mask mandates, and COVID-19 testing to help combat the virus.

In an email, Dr. Rand Harrington, the head of Kent Denver School, wrote, “The unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic has been very challenging for educators at Kent Denver and across the nation. We feel extremely fortunate that our teachers have shown flexibility and resilience as we all navigate this ever-changing landscape. One thing that has not changed – thanks to the efforts of our teachers, Kent Denver students have continued to learn and excel.”

For classes to remain fully in person for the rest of the year, Harrington wrote that the private school in Englewood plans to continue layered mitigation strategies that allowed them to remain fully in person for most of last year. Such strategies include indoor masking regardless of vaccination status, promoting vaccinations for those who are eligible, increased ventilation, encouraging their community to stay home when sick, and regular testing of unvaccinated employees and students.

“Kent Denver School strongly believes that vaccination provides the best possible protection for individuals and our wider community,” Harrington wrote. “More than 95% of our employees are fully vaccinated, as are the vast majority of eligible students.”

Last summer, the school also brought their Breakthrough program, a partnership with Denver and Englewood Public Schools back to campus for in-person classes and enrichment. The program seeks to increase the educational and social opportunities of financially under-resourced middle and high school students through a year-round program and to motivate and train college students for careers in education.

A Teacher’s Perspective

Broderick Hartman is a new high school teacher at Strive Prep Schools, a network of charter public schools across Denver. Hartman was a student teacher at Columbia Middle School in Aurora Public Schools last year when the pandemic first began.

“In a way, it was easier in not having to go anywhere, but it didn’t also feel as fulfilling as in-person feels because you don’t get to see the learning happening with students, and it’s a lot harder to create those relationships virtually over Zoom. So it had its pros and cons,” he said.

His high school students will be attending class in person this year. All staff and students will be wearing masks, but with the Delta variant on the rise, he’s not sure what the school year will look like.

“I think from teachers and students both, the biggest issue was there was so much more of a disconnect,” he said. “It didn’t feel as ‘real’ as in-person teaching would feel. And there was just not a lot of learning getting done. Students didn’t care as much when they were sitting in bed with their cameras turned off, sort of just half paying attention. It was really, really, really hard just getting students to care.”

While Hartman emphasized that he felt supported by the administration and his fellow coworkers both when he was a student teacher at Columbia Middle School and as a new teacher at Strive Prep, he also thinks that there are many teachers that have felt unsupported.

“They had to completely change curriculum and change course with very little support or very few models for how to do that. So I think I mostly just got lucky with my administration being so supportive,” he said.

He has yet to meet a teacher that’s against getting vaccinated, but he is interested in seeing how his high school students feel about the vaccine.