Trapped On a Runaway Train to a Public School Disaster

Screen Shot 2020-06-30 at 9.10.56 AM

Congratulations, America.


We did it.


We screwed up the response to COVID-19 so badly that things can only get worse in the fall.


I’m a public school teacher and the father of a public school student.


I spent the last 9 weeks of class trying to create a new on-line curriculum for my 7th and 8th grade students out of thin air. Meanwhile, I had to assure my 11-year-old daughter that everything was okay during a global pandemic that robbed her of friends and teachers – all while trying to help her with her own school work.


And now at the end of June during Summer break I look at the upward curve of Coronavirus infections in the United States, and I want to cry.




We had this thing on a downward trajectory in May. It continued until about the middle of June and then took off like a rocket to the moon – straight up.



More than 126,000 deaths, and 2.5 million cases – with 40,000 new cases for each of the last four days, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).


To put that in context, the CDC also says our testing is so inadequate, there are likely 10 times more actual cases than that!

The coronavirus is spreading too quickly and too widely for us to bring it under control, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal CDC deputy director.


“We’re not in the situation of New Zealand or Singapore or Korea where a new case is rapidly identified and all the contacts are traced and people are isolated who are sick and people who are exposed are quarantined and they can keep things under control,” she said. “We have way too much virus across the country for that right now, so it’s very discouraging.”


Screen Shot 2020-06-30 at 8.48.18 AM
Source: European CDC

Nearly every other comparable country kept that downward trend. But not us.


The United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Canada…


But the United States!?




You think we can wear masks in public to guard against the spread of infection? No way! Our President politicized them.


Stay indoors to keep away from infected people? It’s summer and the beaches are open.


And – heck! – we’ve got to make sure restaurants and bars and other businesses are open, too, or else the economy will suffer – and we can’t figure out how to run the country without a never-ending game of Monopoly going.


Gotta find out who owns Boardwalk and Park Place. (Surprise! It’s the same 1% who always have and now they’ve got enough to buy a few more hotels!)


A sane country would come together and provide people with federal relief checks, personal protective equipment (PPE), protection from evictions, and universal healthcare. But we don’t live in that country.


Instead we’re all just going to have to suffer.


Not only you and me, but our kids, too.


Because they will have to somehow try to continue their educations through all this madness – again. And this time it won’t merely be for the last quarter of the year. It will be at the start of a new grade when everything is new and fresh and the groundwork is being laid for the entire academic year.


I don’t even know what to hope for anymore.


Would it be better to try to do a whole year of distance learning?


I speak from experience here – April and May were a cluster.


Kids didn’t have the necessary technology, infrastructure or understanding of how to navigate it. And there was no way to give it to them when those were the prerequisites to instruction.


Not to mention resources. All the books and papers and lessons were back in the classroom – difficult to digitize. Teachers had to figure out how to do everything from scratch with little to no training at the drop of a hat. (And guess what – not much has changed in the subsequent weeks.)


Let’s talk motivation. Kids can be hard to motivate under the best of circumstances, but try doing it through a screen! Try building a trusting instructional relationship with a child when you’re just a noisy bunch of pixels. Try meeting individual special needs.


A lot of things inevitably end up falling through the cracks and it’s up to parents to pick up the pieces. But how can they do that when they’re trying to work from home or working outside of the home or paralyzed with anxiety and fear?


And this is probably the BEST option, because what else do we have?


Are we really going to open the school buildings and teach in-person? While that would be much better from an academic standpoint, there’s still the problem of a global pandemic.


Kids will get sick. As time goes on we see increasingly younger people getting infected with worsening symptoms. We really don’t know what the long term effects of this disease will be.


And even if young people are mostly asymptomatic, chances are good they’ll spread this thing to the rest of us.


They’ll bring it home to their families. They’ll give it to their teachers.


Even if we only have half the kids one day and the other half on another day, that won’t help much. We’re still being exposed to at least a hundred kids every week. (Not to mention the question of how to effectively teach some kids in-person while the rest are on-line!)

Even with masks on – and can you imagine teaching in a mask!? Can you imagine kids wearing masks all day!? – those respiratory droplets will spread through our buildings like mad!


Many of us are in the most susceptible groups because of age or health.

Don’t get me wrong – I want to get back to my classroom and teach my students in-person more than almost anything – except dying.


I’d rather live a little bit longer, thank you.


And even if you could guarantee I’d eventually pull through,I really don’t want a ventilator shoved down my throat in order to breathe.


It’s better than not breathing at all, but I’m not taking unnecessary risks, thank you.


So even with all its dysfunctions and discontents, I guess I’d rather teach on-line.


On the plus side, the state where I live, Pennsylvania, has done better with infections than many others.


Cases are generally down though we had more than 600 new ones a few days ago.


Screen Shot 2020-06-30 at 8.44.39 AM
Pennsylvania Cases – Source: PA Dept. of Health


But the Commonwealth is not a closed system. It just takes one fool to travel across state lines from a closed arena of thousands where he heard an insecure public figure spout racist diatribes. One fool like that can spread his infection to thousands more.


And he can spread Coronavirus, too!


So we seem to be facing a no win situation here.


We seem to be hurtling forward in time from July to August while a hard reality is waiting to smack us in the face like a brick wall.


We’ll have to make a final decision about what to do with schools soon.


And as much as I hate the idea, there seems only one sensible solution.


We can’t reopen the classroom until it is safe to do so.


It is not yet safe. It does not appear that it will be in August.


COVID-19 cases are not trending downward. We do not have adequate testing to ensure that it is doing so. And we have no vaccine.


We have to protect our children, families and teachers.


A crappy year of education is better than mass death.


We will pay for it, but that’s the best we can hope for – that we’ll all survive long enough to make it right somewhere down the line.


Like this post?  You might want to consider becoming a Patreon subscriber. This helps me continue to keep the blog going and get on with this difficult and challenging work.

Plus you get subscriber only extras!



I’ve also written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!


40 thoughts on “Trapped On a Runaway Train to a Public School Disaster

    • You know it’s easy to sit back after the fact and criticize and critique what should or shouldn’t have been done. You are not an expert. As a teacher, a diabetic and a mother of 4 students, I have no qualms about returning to school for me or my children. You seem to think your way is the “right” way and truthfully no one really knows what the best way to move forward is. Its terrible fir someone like you to be so righteous and critical of others. Contrary to what you believe, you don’t know everything.


      • Ma’am, I never pretended to know everything. This article is my opinion based on the facts as we’ve been given them by the medical community, the media and experience. As a classroom teacher, I think we have to follow Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Safety has to come first. I am concerned about the safety of my students, my daughter and myself. You may disagree with me, but I ask you to respect my right to an opinion.

        Liked by 1 person

      • No one knows everything, even FiveCat5.

        For instance, I do not know if FiveCat5 is “a teacher, a diabetic and a mother of 4 students” as she, he, or it claims because fivecat5’s comment was left by an anonymous person hiding behind an anonymous name designed to keep her, him, or it secret.

        There is no way to know if fivecat5 is a citizen of the United States, Russia, North Korea, or another country. Of course, fivecat5 can come clean and reveal his, her or it’s read name and location that also might not be real.

        Therefore, if fivecat5 (?) doesn’t care, fivecat5 is free to gamble with its life and the life of its children, but do not support forcing all of the teachers to go back to the classroom until it is safer than it is now and that won’t be for another year or two.

        Liked by 2 people

    • There are some savvy districts that committed to virtual learning again in the fall and are spending their time this summer developing tools, refining curricula, training teachers, and making sure every child has the technology they need. These districts are in the minority, but they will be ready for a safe school year. The rest are spending their summer spinning in circles (to quote one district administrator), endlessly trying to figure out how to make in-person school possible and safe for all, an impossible task for most school settings.


  1. Like usual, your comments are spot on. 2020 was my retirement year after 20 years in industry and another 23 years in a classroom, I was going to hang it up and call it a career. Then March 13th hit. I was always a technology lover, but Zoom is no substitute for a classroom. I had some students from well-off families and they did okay. I had other students that were sharing one smart phone among three or four siblings with a spotty internet connection. Those students eventually just totally disconnected. The disparities between classes were never more pronounced. There certainly was no equity and it broke my heart.

    I just can’t imagine starting the new school year with new faces that we only can see over a computer monitor. In March at least I was dealing with kids that knew me and knew that I cared about them because we had six months of history together. I lost my wife to a sudden heart attack in April and seriously considered not retiring at at that point. But the reality that we were most likely not going to be in our classrooms in September made up my mind for me. There’s no way I want to be part of that exercise. I hope that all districts address the digital divide that exists in large parts of our state. I’ll be lobbying for that all summer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Al. Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment. My condolences for the loss of your wife. I can’t imagine going through that and retiring at the same time. As crazy as last year was, this year looks to be worse. I can certainly understand throwing in the towel. As for me, I’m going to do the best I can for my students and my daughter. Better times are on the way. They have to be.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If we don’t return to school in the fall- then we’ve got 2 months for teachers to pull together- plan together – problem/project based learning units – that are relevant to social justice, Black history, Covid 19 and climate change.

    Let’s get started! Let’s share with everyone- everywhere.

    Sent from my iPhone



    • I like the way you’re thinking, Judy. Using some of the time for planning instead of teaching may be a good idea. And I love the idea of focusing on a curriculum of caring and social justice. But the powers that be also have to get control of the virus.


  3. I am starting to think that what Trump is doing (or should I say not doing) about the virus is intentional. He deliberately weaponized the virus by doing nothing to combat it. And, what he is doing by not wearing a mask and politicizing the virus is helping to spread the disease, killing more people.

    Putin is doing almost exactly the same thing in Russia.

    COVID-19: what’s really going on in Russia?


  4. If you haven’t already, check out the blog of Alison Hawver McDowell. She hails from PA. Her blog, “Wrench in the Gears.” More is going on here than poor management of a pandemic. They like it that way. Think consultants that have offered to digitalize education. Point to a problem and then offer the solution. “American Schools are failing….they need the brilliance and solutions of the savy tech sector.” Some will not be satisfied until more than just education becomes virtual. The pandemic will end when we can no longer go back to normal as we knew it.


  5. The data shows there is very little risk TO school-aged children (5-17). It is unknown if they are even vectors. Unless you are in poor health or over 75, you are very unlikely to be hospitalized from this disease. Kids need to be in school, full stop. If teachers feel the personal risks are too high, they should take a leave of absence. We need to protect teachers the best we can but can not sacrifice our children’s education.


    • John, this is not true. According to Harvard Medical School:

      “Children, including very young children, can develop COVID-19. Many of them have no symptoms. Those that do get sick tend to experience milder symptoms such as low-grade fever, fatigue, and cough. Some children have had severe complications, but this has been less common. Children with underlying health conditions may be at increased risk for severe illness.

      A complication that has more recently been observed in children can be severe and dangerous. Called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), it can lead to life-threatening problems with the heart and other organs in the body. Early reports compare it to Kawasaki disease, an inflammatory illness that can lead to heart problems. But while some cases look very much like Kawasaki’s, others have been different.”


      There is much we don’t know about this virus. It was only discovered in 2019, hence the 19 in its name – COVID-19. We do no one a service by downplaying the danger.

      Second, it is beyond cruel to throw our nation’s teachers to the wolves. If educators are in danger, that is a problem not surmounted by the need of kids to be educated. Please respect my humanity and that of my colleagues and those who serve you, your child and your community. Moreover, if there is a danger to teachers, there is also a danger to families. Kids can bring this disease home to you, too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • “According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among nearly 150,000 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. between Feb. 12 and April 2, only about 2,500, or 1.7%, were in children. This is similar to what has been reported in other countries, such as China and Italy, that have had large outbreaks.”,have%20had%20large%20outbreaks.

      Click the link and learn all the stuff they know and what they don’t know.

      My two children are grown and adults now but even with this low-risk factor I would not want to take the risk if they were still children.

      “While all children are capable of getting the virus that causes COVID-19, they don’t become sick as often as adults. Children also rarely experience severe illness with COVID-19. Despite many large outbreaks around the world, very few children have died.”

      Scroll down to the COVID-19 prevention tips that start with:

      COVID-19 prevention tips

      “There are many steps you can take to prevent your child from getting the virus that causes COVID-19 and, if he or she does become sick, to avoid spreading it to others. The CDC and WHO recommend that you and your family:”

      It is clear that children are capable of getting the virus and even if they do not become sick and/or as sick as older people, that doesn’t mean they cannot pass that virus to someone else during the time they are infected and their younger immune system is dealing with it.

      Do you really want to risk your children coming in contact with other children and adults that might be infected and also becoming infected spreading to others that were not infected?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.