OPINION: Recognize risks facing teachers from COVID-19

November 19, 2020 Marietta - Connie Jackson (foreground), president of Cobb County Association of Educators, leads a peaceful protest rally at the Cobb County Civic Center on Thursday, November 19, 2020. The participants are among the growing number of CCSD staff and nurses who are concerned about how the school district is managing the spread of COVID-19 in its schools. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
November 19, 2020 Marietta - Connie Jackson (foreground), president of Cobb County Association of Educators, leads a peaceful protest rally at the Cobb County Civic Center on Thursday, November 19, 2020. The participants are among the growing number of CCSD staff and nurses who are concerned about how the school district is managing the spread of COVID-19 in its schools. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

A Cobb graduate and a parent now in the district says she’s appalled at treatment of staff during pandemic

Charis Granger-Mbugua graduated Cobb County Schools, where her oldest child is now a student. A Spelman graduate and National Board Certified teacher who is now a stay-at-home parent, Granger-Mbugua voices concerns today about the safety of teachers in classrooms during this pandemic and the response of district leaders to the risks.

She is especially concerned about the actions of her own Cobb County district where an elementary school teacher died of COVID-19 on Christmas and others are now hospitalized.

You can read earlier AJC Get Schooled essays by Granger-Mbugua here and here.

By Charis Granger-Mbugua

I have always marveled at how the holidays have this delightful way of bringing people together. Something about the month of December seems to speak to even the stoniest of hearts and remind us all of what is most important. Somehow, year after year, time, for a few moments or even days, manages to stand still as we soak up the magic of the season and look with hope at the year to come.

But what if your holiday season is anything but magical? What if it is, in fact, tragic?

For many around the country, this holiday season has been exceptionally difficult, devastating even. COVID-19 is the nightmare we are all so ready to wake up from, but try as we might, we continue to toss and turn in the terror and torment of a virus that has shaken us to the very core and stripped us all of what many of us crave the most--community.

As a parent of a Cobb County student, I have been appalled at the treatment of teachers and staff, not just nationwide, but right here in the district I call home, as we grapple with the reality of COVID-19. When the decision to close schools building two days before winter break was announced, I saw firsthand the impossible task given to teachers and staff as they scrambled to rethink plans, cancel holiday celebrations, and accommodate virtual learning for all students without being given ample time to process far less prepare.

Charis Granger-Mbugua
Charis Granger-Mbugua

As a former teacher turned stay-at-home mom, I cringe at the choices being made by the superintendent and decision makers in Cobb. I shudder to think of the anxiety many teachers must feel as they attempt, day after day, to manage a classroom of virtual and face-to-face students simultaneously.

How incredibly difficult it must be for them to plan lessons that engage both groups of students while also taking care of their own physical, mental, and emotional needs. I know, from my more than 13 years in the classroom, the desire to be the best teacher for your students. I know what it means to want your students to learn, be inspired, excel, and grow after a day, a week, a month, or an entire school year in your classroom. But I also know how much is sacrificed—how much is lost in a teacher’s own home--as he or she gives so completely to a job that never seems to be given enough.

And as a human being, I am utterly heartbroken by the apparent disregard for life that has been exhibited by those who call themselves leaders in the Cobb County School District. There are no words that can adequately express the complete sorrow I feel for the family and loved ones of Hendricks Elementary School teacher Patrick Key, who died on Christmas Day from COVID-19.

I cannot imagine the fear and worry that must grip the families of the two other Cobb teachers now hospitalized with COVID-19—one of whom is a first-grade teacher at my own son’s elementary school. I am saddened that in the wake of such tragedy, all that could be mustered up to show teachers and staff in Cobb County that their lives are invaluable—worthy of protection and respect--is an email to staff from Superintendent Chris Ragsdale encouraging them to stay the course . To remember, “we have already adapted our schools and our classrooms significantly, and we will continue to take every possible step to keep our hallways safe, our classrooms healthy, and our schools open both remotely and face-to-face.” How insensitive.

This cannot be the standard of treatment for our educators. We must expect more—demand more--for the teachers and staff who nurture, love, and give so selflessly to our children. And I say our children because whether you have a student in Cobb schools or not, these children will one day grow into the teachers, doctors, essential workers, politicians, that we will need to help our state, our country, and our world be a better place.

As we stand on the brink of a new year, it seems appropriate that we consider how each of us can be better--do better. What can we each do to help lighten the load of our teachers, who are being asked to enter buildings, and risk their very lives every day, to educate our children?

For my family, that looks like using our voices to advocate and support our teachers and schools whenever and wherever we can. It is continuing to keep our son home virtually, despite the inconvenience or challenges it presents. While it is by no means ideal, if it can help minimize the risk for one other immunocompromised teacher or staff member or make it safer for one other student with special needs who relies on services only a school can provide, then it is worth it. It is asking you, regardless of your politics or personal perspective on the dangers of COVID, to do one thing in the New Year, to support classroom teachers.

Each new year brings opportunity for those of us fortunate enough to meet it. May this year be one of renewed respect for teachers, not just in words, but in tangible action. They deserve so much more than we have given them throughout the years. COVID-19 has just put a giant magnifying glass on how extremely important the job of a teacher is, but more importantly how very precious their lives are.

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