Guest Columnist

Dear Gov. Reynolds, how many children have to die?

An open letter to Iowa's governor about school openings from an educator

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference, Tuesday, July
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference, Tuesday, July 7, 2020, in Urbandale, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Throughout the pandemic, you have shared your faith and trust in Iowans to do the right thing. Early on, I was concerned that Iowans were making you look bad because many weren’t doing that and things were getting worse. Now here we are a few months later. I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt early on — thinking the poor choices of the people came in defiance of your leadership; now it feels these choices are a reflection of your leadership.

You have made it clear through your time in office that you are pro-life.” I don’t want to get into an abortion debate here; this is about words. You see, I’m pro-choice AND pro-life. Contrary to what some believe, pro-choice doesn’t mean pro-death, it means pro-choice. And I hope women choose life, but I’m not going to make that choice for them.

You and the Department of Education told schools to prepare return-to-learn plans and share them by a given date. They did that. Many of them included some form of online learning as an option. Then some made the decision to move to online partially or fully. And you didn’t like it, so you made a proclamation. After all the work districts did — surveying families and staff members, creating committees, having many meetings to hammer out the plans — you just said, “We’re doing this my way.”

It’s like, if I asked my wife to come up with a few ideas for places from which to pick up food, and she gave me three, how would she like it when I simply said, “No. We’re driving through McDonald’s”?

You told districts they had a choice. They didn’t. McDonald’s it is. And now it’s clear you’re not pro-life. Not just because McDonald’s isn’t the healthiest choice. Let’s assume the mortality rate for kids is .002 (2/1000) — that’s about the number I’ve seen. How many student lives are worth the risk? One per district? Is one enough? Which one? Whose kid? And that’s not even getting in to staff. Nor is it getting into the 80 percent of people infected, who will experience a mild version of the virus — which, as doctors have shared — can include pneumonialike symptoms and possibly a long-term impact on lungs. Ultimately, it’s clear you are neither pro-life nor pro-choice. If you were, you’d leave it up to the districts to choose, and they would choose life.

And if you’re reading this and thinking about the 50% core subjects issue and how important in-person instruction is? I teach English. Gone are the days when I can kneel beside a student to talk to him/her about his/her paper. I will stand a few feet away in a classroom where the students are several feet away from each other and talk loudly through my mask to share my appreciation and my critique for their paper — that every other student will get to hear. There will be no small group work, no partner work, no working in proximity to students on their computer as they draft again and again. It will not look anything like actual school; it will likely be worse.

I love teaching. I love students. I view my work as a calling. I know my colleagues do, too. We want to go to school. But we know that might not be the right choice.

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Since when, Governor, are schools responsible for the economy? How is it we live in a time when our economy is dependent on going to school? If they are, maybe it’s time to start funding them and paying staff accordingly.

Since when, Governor, are schools responsible for mental health? Certainly, we have a role to play. But if you’re tasking us with that? Fund us accordingly so the student-counselor ration is better than the 1-200 plus in my sons’ school and better than the 1-400 plus where I teach. And ensure that nursing positions don’t have to be cut or shared between buildings.

Since when, Governor, are schools responsible for socialization of students? Where I live, most people barely hit the pause button on that. Kids will be OK. Many still gather. And then there’s social media which many prefer anyway.

And, Governor, if you are concerned about kids falling behind academically? They’re way ahead of where their teachers were when we were their age. But don’t worry; we’ve got this. And we will bust our butts to make sure of it.

Finally, I know I’ve covered a lot of ground here. So let me sum things up. One of the best definitions of leadership I’ve heard is only two words long: “Meet Needs.” That’s what leaders do.

You’re meeting needs. It’s just that they’re yours. And those aren’t the needs we’re talking about. As much as you’d like us to, we’re not driving through McDonald’s. We’re pro-life and pro-choice. Fund us adequately and then show you trust us to do the work we’ve been called to do by getting out of the way.

Matt Pries is a teacher at Waukee Community School District.

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