‘I worry that we’re not doing enough to keep everybody safe’: Idaho teachers pen letter asking for more safety measures

KOOTENAI CO., Idaho — Some of Idaho’s most recognized teachers are sharing one message: More needs to be done to keep COVID out of schools.

Nine of Idaho’s Teachers of the Year are now calling on state leaders to make it happen.

“We’re just working harder than we’ve ever worked to try and keep kids learning under whatever circumstances we’re in,” said Jamie Esler, the 2014 Teacher of the Year, who is also a teacher with the Coeur d’Alene School District.

Esler and eight other Teachers of the Year signed an open letter, speaking out and asking for change.

These teachers are nominated by someone in their district for being a great educator. They go on to be picked from the state, and get that honor of being the best that year.

Now, they all have a lesson plan for COVID-19. They want to the state to have a more consistent guidance for schools in reopening plans.

“Appropriate physical distancing, face coverings, proper sanitation, it should be in every single school, period,” Esler said.

However, that’s not the case in every school district across the state.

In the Coeur d’Alene School District, students are required to wear masks. Secondary grade levels are attending school on a hybrid schedule, as well.

Meanwhile, just a short drive north, the Lakeland School District is only recommending masks, not requiring them. Students are also attending school five days a week.

The lack of students and staff wearing masks concerns Stacie Lawler, a Lakeland School District teacher and Idaho’s 2020 Teacher of the Year.

Since the end of August, the school district said 162 people tested positive for the virus. It’s unclear how many people are currently in isolation for testing positive.

Lawler says she’s had to get tested three times already.

“I imagine I’m going to continue getting tested more often. That’s a worry for me. I worry about bringing COVID to my students, as well as bringing it home,” she said.

She’s happy to see her students often, since some districts are still fully remote, but she still wants more to be done.

“I worry that we’re not doing enough to keep everybody safe,” she said.

The number of people testing positive is skyrocketing in Idaho. They’re expected to go up even more with the holidays and flu season.

“There is still time to take the appropriate steps to save lives, but the clock is ticking,” the letter reads.

Both Lawler and Esler want to be able to teach their students in person, knowing that their students learn better that way.

“However, Idaho’s lack of collective strategy and response to the pandemic makes it difficult, if not impossible, to provide in-person instruction safely in most cases,” the letter said.

They’re also asking state leaders to listen to the medical experts if they do need to switch to hybrid or remote learning.

There are four main points and issues the teachers want addressed:

  • Class sizes are still an issue, not being able to social distance adequately
  • More staff are needed to help. Some schools have had to close because too many teachers are out on quarantine.
  • They students to be fully supported, mentally and physically.
  • They say buildings are “inadequate” and “outdated,” not having effective air filters. They also say it’s tough to have enough space to physically distance students.

The list was created collectively between the nine teachers, but each have their own experiences in their respective districts.

Lawler, Esler and other teachers aren’t just calling on state leaders for help, but parents and the community, too.

“We need to make sure students are taking the necessary precautions to limit the spread of the virus when they’re not on campus. Parental and community support on this is imperative,” Eesler said.

The letter says they all need to work together, asking the community to be part of the solution, not the problem.

“Targeting blame at educators who prioritize their own health and that of their families is far too prevalent in Idaho, and in our opinion represents a completely misguided mindset,” the letter said.

“What we’re hoping is that our voices, our collective voices, can create change for our students. That’s why we’re at school, that’s why we’re teachers, is we’re trying to make life better for our students,” Lawler said.

You can read the full letter below:

Teacher of the Year Letter by Emily Oliver on Scribd

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