Pfaff, Wright speak up for teachers as educators navigate back-to-school worries

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Column co-authored by:State Rep. Tonya Pfaff (D-Terre Haute) and State Rep. Melanie Wright (D-Yorktown):

Typically, we feel a sense of excitement this time of year. Even after 20-30 years of teaching elementary students and high schoolers, there is something exciting about the first day of school.

Not this year.

We are teachers and state representatives and we both have concerns about our re-entry plans at a time when COVID-19 numbers are escalating, businesses are shuttering their doors again and people are masking up. We are not alone in our concerns, as every teacher we have talked to is losing sleep over the return to school.

When we talk about reopening schools, we must not overlook the fact that COVID-19 has only exacerbated the struggles that teachers were already facing: a statewide teacher shortage, poor teacher pay and an insufficient number of substitute teachers.

As educators, the attack on our profession over the last ten years has been relentless, and as a result, our teacher vacancies go unfilled during a normal school year, let alone this one. Furthermore, with a lack of subs to fill in when they’re gone, teachers have little wiggle room when it comes to taking any amount of time off, even if they get sick.

Going back to the classroom in the middle of a pandemic is no way to prepare our students for the educational challenges they will face. Asking people to inspire and educate the future generation is getting more and more difficult, especially considering the lack of help or concern shown from our General Assembly.

Leadership in the State Capitol has refused time and time again to deal with Indiana’s education crisis, and that was before the pandemic.

We know there are no simple solutions for the education crises that Hoosiers have witnessed for years, but we do know that the best people to help guide us through these challenges and find solutions are the ones out in the field. Unfortunately, those same people are the ones we are recklessly putting at risk.

There are two things that our Legislature and Governor can do to make this trying time a little less strained for teachers. One is to provide clarity, especially as our superintendents are thrown into making hurried decisions with little guidance. The other is to guarantee funding at 100 percent, regardless of a school’s chosen method of instruction. Until this happens, teachers and school administrators will be left confused and scared over what will happen if a school is forced to close because of an outbreak.

Decisions to keep schools open out of fear of loss of funding, even in the face of an outbreak, should be unacceptable to all Hoosiers.

Education is the foundation of our community. Indiana needs to take the lead and offer safe solutions for our children, our teachers and our schools. Anything less is unsafe and unconscionable.

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