Why are we rushing to reopen schools without getting COVID-19 under control?

My name is Kristen Morjal and I am speaking as a concerned teacher, parent and wife.  I speak also as an individual who is in the at-risk group for severe complications should I contract COVID-19. 

My husband, son, and I have self- isolated since March. We have  all three, including our four year old son, worn masks each time we’ve been out of the house, which has been limited to the grocery store. During this time, we have not visited extended family or friends. We haven’t gone on vacation, taken shopping trips, visited parks, or even our local library. We have taken this seriously since day one and followed all CDC guidelines. 

This year will be my tenth year in my district and school. I have accomplished many things during my time in the classroom including being named Teacher of the Year for my building. I now feel that I must choose to give up my career I have put so much of my heart and soul into, along with the means to support my family, OR compromise my health. It is a frustrating situation. 

Governor Lee, we need a mask mandate.  Every doctor and infectious disease expert I have seen  has stressed the importance of wearing masks and social distancing.   This has become a politically charged issue. But, I  fear that without a mask mandate, both across the state and in our schools, this virus will continue to spread like wildfire.

Why are we rushing to reopen schools without first getting the virus under control?  And why would we even consider opening schools without requiring masking and social distancing?    I teach first grade. I typically have about 20 students in my class. I can fit 12 desks in my classroom at recommended social distance,  if I remove all other furniture. By placing teachers and students in classes without distancing and masks, we are creating a breeding ground for COVID-19.

Medical experts also tell us that COVID transmission is highest indoors in large groups of people over an extended period of time. This is every school in America.  Current reopening plans in Tennessee  are not following CDC, or even state, guidelines.  It’s hard to understand why we closed schools in March, when our average case counts  were less than 300 per day and our positive testing rate was less than 5%.  Now we average over 2,000 new cases per day and our positivity rate has nearly doubled and we are rushing to reopen schools.  It just doesn’t make sense.

I make these points to say, we are rushing an incredibly important decision. This will, in one way or another, directly impact lives – the lives of my teacher colleagues, and the lives of my children and their families.   I am asking that we slow down, put appropriate thought into this decision and to delay in-person classes until this virus is under control . This is a decision that should, no doubt, be based on science and data and not emotions and politics. 

Governor Lee, we need leadership, and we have needed it for months.  Our school districts and administrators are doing the best they can with the resources they have, but without clear guidance and a statewide mask mandate and a comprehensive plan to get COVID under control, I fear we are in for some very difficult days.