Birmingham Parents, Educators Leery about Returning to School in the Wake of COVID-19
Updated: Jul 24, 2020
Birmingham, Ala. - Last week, it was reported that at least two central office employees of Birmingham City Schools (BCS) tested positive for COVID-19. The infection likely occurred after an employee was ordered to come to the office, despite informing a supervisor of their COVID-19 symptoms. The employee tested positive for the virus the following day.
Shortly after the infection at the Birmingham Board of Education office was reported, BCS Interim Superintendent Dr. Mark Sullivan made a robocall to parents ensuring them that BCS will be ready to receive students on August 24. With the Alabama Department of Public Health reporting nearly 60,000 current cases and 1,183 deaths from COVID-19 across the state, parents are contemplating the safety of children returning to school in a few weeks.
A number of Birmingham residents, including parents, citizens, and school board employees shared their concerns about reopening to Our 360 News under the condition of anonymity.
When asked about the robocall, one BCS elementary school teacher expressed uncertainty about whether the school system is ready to reopen. “A detailed plan should have been decided on before that robocall to ensure the readiness of returning to school. With the system already being unorganized, I do not see BCS being ready in enough time for in-person instruction,” the teacher commented. In an email, the teacher also expressed discomfort about returning to the classroom, and was not confident in the school system’s ability to protect students, teachers, and staff.
A concerned Birmingham City school employee believes opening the schools is not in the best interest of the health and safety of the children. During an email exchange, the employee said, “I don't think it will be a good idea for teachers and students to return back to school because it's going to cause more and more people to become infected. I look at things from both sides, and that's being a teacher and parent. The safety of each individual is valuable...I recommend the delay of in person instruction until this virus is under control.”
A Birmingham City high school teacher expressed, “I don’t feel comfortable but what can I do? I work with high school students so I’m only hoping and praying that they believe in the disease and will follow the proper guidelines to protect us all.”
Many parents have expressed concern, not only for the safety of their children, but for the possible spread of the virus into their homes. Those with pre-existing health conditions are especially leery of sending their children back into schools. “I have pre-existing health issues that already make me more vulnerable than others,” said one BCS parent in an email interview. “I’ve taken the proper precautions for both my son and myself to make sure our chances of contracting COVID are as slim as possible.”
The parent was also discouraged by the actions of the BCS central office leadership towards an employee exhibiting COVID symptoms. “It is very disheartening to know that the system I entrust with my child's life for 8 hours a day was so careless with their own employees."
Dr. Mark Sullivan held a virtual press conference last week regarding the school system reopening. While no concrete plan is in place, he did unveil four learning options including: 1) remote learning, which is taught completely online for 9 weeks, 2) blended learning, which encompasses face to face teaching and online, 3) traditional learning, which is 100% face to face interaction and a virtual option, and 4) virtual learning, which requires the student to spend all 9 weeks in the online classroom and can be chosen by parents that feel it is the best option for their family.