DES MOINES, Iowa — The 2020-21 school year looks to prove that a teacher’s dedication to educating Iowa’s future is unprecedented.
“We are front line workers. We are no different than a doctor or a nurse or health care provider,” said Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek.
Despite pieces for return-to-learn plans being put together across Iowa school districts, many teachers remain puzzled. “Our employees are generating a great deal of anxiety and they are very unsure of what will be happening,” Beranek said.
Beranek says he is hearing from union members that some of the district decisions are driving them to flat out call it a career. “There are people who are seriously contemplating taking retirement so they do not return to school this fall because of their own health.”
Guidance from Gov. Kim Reynolds, the Iowa Department of Education and the Iowa Department of Public Heath on returning to the classroom does not require masks for students or staff and it’s something the Perry Community School District is only recommending. “There are going to be buildings in our state that do not have any face coverings whatsoever,” Beranek said.
In the event a teacher tests positive for COVID-19, the likelihood of even finding a substitute could be scarce. Beranek said, “A larger population of those individuals are retired or in a age range where they are more susceptible, so yes, those substitute teachers are going to be very selective.”
Masks are mandatory for teachers and for students in West Des Moines Community Schools. Parents have the choice to either send their kid to school or learn online, but Western Hills Elementary PTO President Chrissy Parkinson wonders if the load on teachers is too heavy. “The poor teachers are going to struggle policing masks or face shields on small children and also older children who get wiggly in the classroom,” Parkinson said.
Masks will be mandatory in Des Moines Public Schools with students in class a few days a week and online for the rest. Parents also have the option for online-only learning, but teachers will be front and center standing bravely in the classroom. Beranek said, “There are too many unknowns right now in our environment to ensure our school buildings will be safe for everyone who walks in that front door.”
The Iowa State Education Association is calling on the state’s education and health departments to make masks in school districts mandatory.