What are teacher concerns for a return to in-person learning?

"Teachers are also leery"
Posted at 5:43 PM, Dec 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-07 17:52:00-05

KENMORE, NY (WKBW) — There is a big push to get schools reopen for in-person learning.

Experts say children don’t appear to be spreading the virus at schools, as much as community spread appears to be the culprit.

But for teachers — there are concerns.

Peter Stuhmiller, president, Kenmore Teachers Association, in a Zoom interview.

“We’re nervous — we're concerned,” stated Peter Stuhmiller, president, Kenmore Teachers Association.

Stuhmiller said teachers are ready to return to the classroom, but he says they have two major issues.

“Obviously we have some concerns about vigilance, number one and number two, we're also concerned about contact tracing,” Stuhmiller remarked.

Stuhmiller said they don’t believe Erie County Health Department has enough contact tracers to sufficiently and quickly reach out to adults and children if they are infected from community spread.

Peter Stuhmiller, president, Kenmore Teachers Association, holds up mask in Zoom interview saying teachers worry about vigilance.

“And that lag in time just puts the school community at risk and the wider community at risk for infection,” noted Stuhmiller.

The Ken-Schools are in Erie County's orange zone and remain in all remote learning for now. The district has not established a date for COVID testing that would allow schools to reopen.

Stuhmiller, also a social studies teacher at Kenmore West, said teachers are “leery” about returning with spiking community spread.

“We’re worried about our own health. A number of our teachers have some medical co-morbidity's that put them at risk and they're also worried about their students,” Stuhmiller remarked.

Andy Pallota, president, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), in a Zoom interview.

“Bottom line — has to be — wearing a mask — all the time,” declared Andy Pallota, president, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT).

Classrooms have been transformed to provide a ‘shield of safety’ for both students and teachers.

Pallota said the state’s teachers union is fighting to make sure all public schools are following state safety guidelines.

Eileen Buckley asking NYSUT leader about protecting teachers.

“But what about the safety of a teacher? Who's looking out for the teacher?” Buckley asked.

“Number one — the local school districts. The local union president and local union is looking out for them and of course NYSUT is looking out for them on a statewide basis,” replied Pallota.

The union leaders say if a teacher does not feel safe, the union will fight for an individual case.

Andy Pallota, president, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), Zoom interview.

“If someone has an underlying health condition — that we are fighting for them — that they would get a medical accommodation. We’ve been having a lot of success up until this point,” Pallota explained.

“In a school setting, as vigilant as we try to be — some of these kids don't want to wear masks or they have trouble masks — especially with our younger kids,” said Stuhmiller.

“How concerned are you — with staffers and faculty also causing the spread,” questioned Buckley.

“That's an obviously a legitimate concern,” Stuhmiller responded. “Many of our members really don't want to roll the dice and take the risk of increasing their bubble because they just don't know."