Nashville teachers share emotional testimonies about working amid COVID-19 pandemic

Coronavirus

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Teachers in Nashville shared stories from inside their classrooms about educating students during the COVID-19 pandemic. This happened during Tuesday’s Metro Nashville Public Schools Board of Education meeting.

“Question is why should a teacher have to choose between losing our job, our health, our lives or what we know is best for kids? I beg you tonight to create a win-win situation for all of us. Whether it be spacing, cleaning, or planning, when it comes to the virus, we have to win every time. The virus only has to win once, right now we are losing,” said Andrew Jackson Elementary School Physical Education Teacher Susan Floyd.

Metro Nashville Public Schools shared its COVID-19 report for the week of Nov. 2 through Nov. 8. It showed 214 staff quarantined or isolated with 52 confirmed positive COVID cases. The report also said 770 students were quarantined or isolated with 37 confirmed positive cases.

“I think I can speak for many elementary school teachers right now by saying we feel very abandoned and betrayed. We fought so hard to support many of you but in return, we’ve been thrown under the bus,” said first-grade teacher Amanda Baker. “When we have over 1,000 people quarantined in the district we have a problem. Yet, the district is pretending that all is well, releasing reports that are not only inaccurate but not cumulative so they don’t show the full number of people quarantined. The number of cases quarantined right now and cases are staggering and ridiculous. Many schools are barely functioning at this point.”

District officals told News 2 that Technology Services is working with the School Nurse Program to enhance the mechanisms for reporting cases to the district, including active status. They added that as that system is further developed, tested, and implemented, the district anticipated a public facing dashboard.

Baker also shared concerns about how she felt in-person learning was impacting students.

“How can it not be safe for some students but safe for others? We have classrooms that are at capacity with little to no distancing, kids sitting for hours with little to no movement to try and decrease the spread,” Baker described. “We have sick kids coming in daily showing signs of COVID. Do you know what it’s like to play Russian Roulette COVID style? We do. Some kids are sent home some are not. The safety measures are inconsistent across the district. Many times no one is quarantined and no parents are notified of the sickness within the classrooms and we pretend it didn’t happen to not cause panic, but we know people are dying daily from it.”

Gower Elementary School teacher Susan Saar was emotional as she told the board why she supported in-person learning.

“I’m not on the outside of having concerns for loved ones. I have a daughter with an auto immune and a sick mother and it affects me,” said Saar. “But it’s taught me adversity whips you in the face, but you should love life and you should not stop and I will not blame you if I get the flu and I will not blame you if I get COVID. But I’m here to do a job you hired me for and it’s going well. I love my kids. I’m sorry I’m a little emotional. But thank you and think of them independently because my kids need me and I need them.”

Director of Schools Dr. Adrienne Battle said district leaders have a goal of giving all students the option to learn in-person. However, she said based on key metrics in Davidson County they still cannot move forward with the district’s re-opening plan for middle schools.

“While I will be going back, half of my students will not be, so I am going to have to lose who did not choose that. It was chosen for them by their families. We’re asked to make all of these changes, for what?” said Oliver Middle School 6th grade teacher Nick Keel. “We cannot guarantee this would be consistent, that this would stay this way all year. We’re going to throw those relationships to the side. My question is do parents, students, teachers, realize if and when we return this year it’s not going to look normal. We’re not picking up where we left off in March.”

Teachers also expressed concerns over their own health and that of their families when teaching in-person.

“I cannot protect my students myself and my family while I am in the classroom. I walk an exhausting fine line every day of wanting so badly to be with my students but also don’t feel like I should have to sacrifice my life or anyone I love to do so,” Baker added. “What you are asking us to do as a district is inconceivable. How do you, as a district, create guidelines for reopening and completely ignore the guidelines set forth? This is not healthy. This is not OK, I’m asking you to please hear me, hear us, we are in the classrooms, we know what happens daily.”

Dr. Battle previously stated that the district was working to address the needs of teachers.

“I appreciate our working relationship with the MNEA and the teachers they represent. We worked closely with MNEA to identify PPE needs for employees and to provide those items to each staff member,” Dr. Battle stated. “We paused the phase-in process for bringing back students in Middle School due to increased spread of COVID-19 in the community, and will continue working with the Health Department, which oversees our school nurse program and contact tracing, to monitor cases in our school to determine whether transmission is occurring inside of our buildings to ensure a safe working and learning environment.”

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