School teachers, administrators, staff workers, custodians and maintenance workers will see their jobs get even more challenging if and when schools reopen this fall.

In Huntsville, classes are set to reopen on Wednesday, Aug. 26.

Teachers are expected to return to campuses on Aug. 6 to prepare for fall classes, some of which will be on-site while others will be virtual. Maintenance workers will be busy preparing classrooms, even more so this year due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

That schools should open at all for the 2020-21 year remains  a controversy. The number of Covid-19 cases continues to increase in northwest Arkansas. While school age children are not the highest of high-risk categories, that doesn’t mean classrooms will be without risk. Many teachers and staff members may fall into more at-risk categories. A child coming to school may be coming from a home in which a parent or sibling is carrying the virus, with or without showing symptoms.

Local students will be “highly encouraged” to wear masks while in the classrooms, which also will be set up to practice social distancing as much as possible. In some cases, such as lunchrooms, that will be a daunting task. The Huntsville School District plans to provide at least one cloth mask per child, as well as masks and face shields for teachers. 

Still, the National Education Association warns, “In K-12 and higher ed buildings, a poorly designed and executed strategy can cost lives, particularly among our most vulnerable students and in communities of color. ...” 

I have no doubt that teachers, staff and maintenance workers will do their absolute best to ensure the health and safety of our children, as well as offering the best education possible. They proved that last school year when on-site instruction was shut down in March. Teachers had to adjust schedules and how they taught students, from the youngest to high school seniors.

It’s disturbing, however, when you see all of the things local school employees are being asked to do as we look ahead to the fall. Teachers will become “mask monitors” and members of the maintenance crew. Local schools have gotten more and more state and national mandates to do this and do that, but with seemingly little help. The local district has not been able to hire more maintenance people; instead, we ask even more from those already on staff.

Steve Hale, director of Maintenance and Custodial for the local district, told the Huntsville School Board last week, “It’s going to be a challenge. We’re staffed to the bare minimum so it will be extra duty for them.”

Each campus has a sanitizer or mister that will be used each night to clean the schools. Teachers will also be called upon to clean their classrooms, as well as wipe and disinfect each desk. 

Teachers will have to clean their classrooms daily, in some cases every hour.

Tracey-Ann Nelson, executive director of the Arkansas Education Association, has said, “No one wants students to safely return to classrooms more than parents, educators and administrators. However, we can’t allow this common desire to place our children, educators and their families at risk.”

President Donald Trump has pushed for schools to reopen in the fall, even threatening to cut off federal funding for districts that don’t. This is the same man who pushed for businesses to reopen before the pandemic was under control. We’ve seen how well that worked, with many states reopening only to reclose businesses.

Nelson said, “The state’s guidance on outbreaks in our schools is acknowledgment that we are attempting to send students and educators into an unsafe situation. This danger is compounded by the states’ lack of coordinated guidance to districts as they attempt to plan amid constantly changing guidelines that have somehow become politicized.” 

The Arkansas Education Association said, “Educators want to see the safe return to in-person learning in schools across our state; however, they remain concerned about the risk to their students and colleagues. When we return to classroom learning, we need to do it in a sustainable way that ensures school buildings stay safe and stay open.”

I’ve heard teachers and administrators say they will do whatever needs to be done. I have no doubt they will. I just worry they are being asked to do too much.