‘Please do not ask me to choose between my life and my job:’ Teacher updating will ahead of fall semester

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URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — A teacher said she is working with a lawyer to update her will and make sure her personal affairs are in order ahead of the fall semester.

Kim Summers is an English teacher at Urbana High School. Her partner is also a teacher in the Champaign school district, and the two have a 19-year-old son. They are scared of the possibility of needing to return to classrooms this fall.

Summers submitted a letter to the Urbana School District, which board members read aloud at a meeting Tuesday night. Summers describes herself as an introvert, but said she felt it was important that she make her voice heard.

“It was hard, it was difficult to write,” she said. “Unfortunately, we’re in a situation where we have to write it. Our district is doing a really great job under the circumstances coming up with a plan. That doesn’t mean we have to accept it though.”

Superintendent Jennifer Ivory-Tatum announced at the meeting that she would be recommending a remote start to the semester on August 24th, with September 8th being the earliest possible date to resume a hybrid learning schedule. While Summers said she felt some relief at hearing about the remote start, she still does not feel in-person learning should resume at all until the number of cases in the area is reduced to zero within 14 consecutive days.

According to an article published by the National Educators Association, teachers in other cities across the country are preparing wills as well. An attorney in Florida, where coronavirus cases are surging, is even offering teachers free living wills.

Summers shared a copy of her letter with WCIA.

Dear USD Board Members and Dr. Ivory-Tatum:

My name is Kim Summers, and I am an English teacher at Urbana High School. Thank you for taking time to listen to my concerns about returning to in-person instruction during this global pandemic.

Teachers would much rather be in school with our students every day, but we only want to go back when we are not putting our students’ lives, our families’ lives and our own lives at risk. As a teacher, I have always promised my students that I will do everything in my power to keep them safe; returning to in-person instruction during this global pandemic is not keeping them safe at all. It is imperative that Urbana schools participate in remote learning until the number of Covid-19 cases have been zero for at least fourteen consecutive days. Fewer diagnoses does not mean safety; until there are no new cases, no one is safe​. Teachers will be able to help students recover academically, but we cannot recover the lives that will be lost to this virus as it spreads through our schools and into our families and community. The only acceptable number of deaths for students and teachers is zero.

There have been many comments made that teachers should be required to go back into the classroom since we are essential workers. While teachers are incredibly important, we are not essential employees since we can effectively educate our students remotely. As a district, we must also educate our kids in the safest way possible. Given the time and resources to plan appropriately, remote instruction will be effective and safe. We cannot use the experience of remote teaching from the end of last year to determine if it could be effective, because teachers were not given the time nor resources to implement a learning model to best meet the needs of our kids.

Sociologically speaking, I completely understand that some parents who are essential workers need schools to reopen so they have a safe place to send their children while they work. I understand the financial and emotional hardship daycare has on the working class. As a school district, we need to work with city, state and federal agencies to offer support to these families, but it is not the responsibility of teachers to provide child care for our students. Our job is to educate our students, ​something we can do effectively from home.

Normally, I would be preparing for the new school year. I would be updating curriculum, finalizing unit lesson plans, and creating a welcoming environment in my classroom for the kids’ first day at Urbana High School since I primarily teach Freshmen. I would be reflecting on my past eight years of teaching, leading, and learning from my students. Instead of planning, I am currently working with a lawyer to update my will and make sure all my personal affairs are in order since I am being forced to return to a building where germs and diseases thrive. I know that many of my colleagues are doing the same since the UEA survey found that only seven percent of respondents were comfortable with returning to in-person instruction. This means that 93% of your teachers recognize how deadly this situation is for ourselves, our students, our families, and our community.

Please do not ask me to choose between my life and my job.

Ten years ago when I began the Master of Education program in order to obtain my teaching certification, a professor asked my class if we were willing to die for our students. We were talking about the rise in the number of school shootings in the U.S., and how it is the teacher’s responsibility to keep all of their students safe. I really struggled with this question since my son was in elementary school at the time, and I did not know if I would be able to step in front of a bullet to keep my students safe when ​my son would be forced to grow up without a mother​. I knew that if I could not answer yes to this question, then I should not become a teacher. Every year I tell my students this story, and I promise them that I would take a bullet for them. I promise them that I will do everything I can to keep them safe, and this is not a promise I take lightly; however, I cannot make this promise to them this year, because I know that I cannot protect them or myself from COVID-19.

If we knew that there was going to be an active shooter at the school when we return, everyone (board members, administration, teachers, parents, and community members) would do everything in their power to keep our kids and teachers safe. Statistically speaking, COVID-19 is more dangerous to our school than an active shooter. ​We cannot always stop a school shooter from entering our schools, but we CAN stop COVID-19 from entering our schools. Why would we put our students at unnecessary risk if we do not have to?

Until the number of new COVID cases is zero for fourteen consecutive days, in-person instruction puts our students and our teachers in danger. We all want what’s best for our students, and in the current situation, remote learning is it.

Thank you for listening and for your time! Kim

Kim Summers, Urbana teacher

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