Guest Columnist

An open letter to Iowa school boards

Forget Kim Reynolds; protecting Iowa against COVID-19 is up to you

Students arrive by bus for the first day of school at an elementary school in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. (L
Students arrive by bus for the first day of school at an elementary school in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Since Gov. Kim Reynolds is busy installing smoke alarms while Iowa burns, it’s up to you to step up and fight the flames.

She is not a leader. You can be.

Thanks for doing a thankless job, with no pay and recognition only when someone is mad. We need you now more than ever.

There are two threats with this pandemic. First is protecting our kids and educators from the virus and preventing community spread. Second is ensuring that educators don’t hit a wall and burn out before we can get to the other side of this crisis. Here are some steps to address both threats.

• Push the pause button:

The governor says there is no virus spread in school. Ask any educator and they’ll tell you she’s wrong. It’s time to go online until after the winter break just like colleges and universities.

Yes, the Zoom may freeze, and kids might play Fortnite instead of doing math, but they’ll be healthier and their teachers will live to see another Christmas. We all love sports and other extracurriculars. But the virus loves packed gyms.

• Mask up:

According to the Iowa State Education Association, one-third of Iowa’s public schools are not mandating masks. Most issues have two sides. The mask issue doesn’t.

Debating whether a mask protects is like debating people who still think the Earth is flat. They might be a nice, but they don’t get to turn an opinion into fact.

There is not good science on both sides of the mask debate. On one side, you have a bunch of screaming people wearing red hats, and on the other you have medical professionals and scientists. I know the anti-mask group is loud, but loud doesn’t equal accurate.

Think about it. If your best buddy from junior high says he’d be happy to scrub in for your heart surgery, would you choose that person to cut over a person who’s actually gone to medical school and has done a few surgeries?

In addition, after the pause, please try to add more social distancing, rapid testing and contact tracing. Hopefully, the new president, Joe Biden, will make these things a priority and will provide funds.

• A little grace for your educators:

Teachers are overwhelmed. School boards across Iowa need to have their backs. Teachers are essential employees. But they aren’t paid that way.

If COVID-19 is a hazard, then teachers who are exposed daily have earned hazard pay. This needs to be a priority in your budget and you need to lobby the Legislature and Congress for funds to make it happen. In fact, the whole school staff should receive additional compensation.

Professional development needs to shift gears to professional time and personal care. The hours spent in professional development would be better spent giving teachers time to catch up and catch their breaths.

Teacher evaluations need to mean something different. Instead of checking boxes about closure and learning targets, the evaluation should target how the teacher is coping and what he or she might need to survive until this is over.

Finally, to relieve teacher and principal stress, more substitutes need to be recruited, and the only way to do that is by making it worthwhile for substitutes to come into our schools. Lowering standards for substitutes didn’t work, so let’s pay them more for the potential hazards they will face.

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Until enough subs are recruited, stop dividing classes and giving teachers bigger classes when you can’t find a substitute teacher. Instead, enlist principals and central office administrators as substitutes. Certainly not a perfect solution, but it’s safer for kids and it’s saner for teachers.

Thanks for listening, and thanks for fighting the virus fire in our schools when our top leadership won’t. If we work together, hopefully we can limit the flames of the virus so fewer are burned.

Bruce Lear of Sioux City retired after 38 years of being connected to public schools. He was a teacher for 11 years, and a regional director for the Iowa State Education Association for 27 years until retirement. He grew up in Shellsburg. BruceLear2419@gmail.com

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