An open letter to Iowa school boards

“Teachers are overwhelmed,” writes Bruce Lear. “School boards across Iowa need to have their backs.” -promoted by Laura Belin

Since Governor 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 pretty thankless job, with no pay and recognition only when someone is mad.  We need you now more than ever.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put two urgent tasks before us. First: protecting our kids and educators from the virus and preventing community spread. Second: 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 claims the virus isn’t spreading in schools. Ask any educator: they’ll tell you she’s wrong. It’s time to switch to online or hybrid until after the winter break, like colleges and universities have done. Yes, the zoom may freeze, and kids may play Fortnite instead of doing math, but they’ll be healthier, and their teachers will live to see another Christmas.

I know we love sports and other extracurricular activities. But coronavirus loves packed gyms. Also, if things keep getting worse, we’ll need those gyms for field hospitals.

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 reduces spread is like debating people who still thinks the earth is flat. They might be a nice people, 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 over someone who’s 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 contract tracing. Hopefully, the new president 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 state 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. Hours would be better spent giving teachers TLC and 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/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 worth while 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.

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. This is 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 state leadership won’t. If we work together, we can limit the flames of the virus so fewer are burned.

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and recently retired after 38 years of being connected to public schools. He was a teacher for eleven years and a regional director for Iowa State Education Association for 27 years until retirement. 

Top image: Screen shot from the November 19, 2020 meeting of the Southeast Polk Community School District board meeting.

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  • Anyone interested in what Reynolds is doing to Iowa's national image...

    …should take a gander at the new 12/3/20 article in THE ATLANTIC about Iowa’s covid response. It’s entitled “Iowa Is What Happens When Government Does Nothing.” Actually, the way I just put it is not really fair. Reynolds got elected here, so we’re all implicated and we’re all not looking real bright.