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‘With No End In Sight’ To The Coronavirus, Some Teachers ‘Are Retiring Rather Than Going Back To School’

Published Sunday, July 12, 2020
by Katie Reilly/Time
‘With No End In Sight’ To The Coronavirus, Some Teachers ‘Are Retiring Rather Than Going Back To School’

(LEESBURG, VIRGINIA) - When Christina Curfman thought about whether she could return to her second-grade classroom in the Fall, she struggled to imagine the logistics.

How would she make sure her 8-year-old students kept their face masks on all day?

How would they do hands-on science experiments that required working in pairs?

How would she keep six feet of distance between children accustomed to sharing desks and huddling together on one rug to read books?

“The ‘only way to keep kids six feet apart is to have four or five kids,’” says Curfman, a Teacher at Catoctin Elementary School in Leesburg, Virginia, who typically has 22 students in a class.

Her district shut schools on March 12th and at least 55 Staff Members have since tested positive for the Coronavirus.

“Classrooms ‘in general are pretty tight,’” she says. “And then ‘how do you teach a reading group, how do you teach someone one-on-one from six feet apart?’  ‘You can’t.’”

So Curfman - who has an Autoimmune Disease that makes her more vulnerable to COVID-19 - consulted her doctor, weighed the risks of returning to school and decided to retire early after 28 years of teaching.

At 55, she’s eligible for partial retirement benefits and will take home less pay than if she had worked for a few more years, but the decision gave her peace of mind.

“It’s ‘either that or risk your health,’” she says. “It’s ‘kind of a no-brainer.’”

Recent surveys suggest she’s not alone.

Faced with the risks of an uncertain back-to-school plan, some Teachers, who spent the last few months teaching over computers and struggling to reach students who couldn’t access on-line lessons, are choosing not to return in the Fall.

The rising number of Coronavirus cases in many parts of the country, and recent evidence that suggests the virus can spread indoors via tiny respiratory droplets lingering in the air, have fueled Teachers’ safety concerns, even as Republican President Donald Trump demands that schools fully reopen and threatens to cut Federal Funding from those that don’t.

Trump has said that older teachers, who are more vulnerable to the virus, could “sit it out for a little while, unless we come up with the vaccine sooner.”

About 20% of Teachers said they aren’t likely to return to teaching if schools reopen in the Fall, according to a USA Today/Ipsos Poll conducted in late May. 

EdWeek Research Center surveys conducted around the same time found that more than 10% of Teachers are more likely to leave the profession now than they were before the pandemic, and 65% of Educators said they want school buildings to remain closed to slow the spread of the virus.

But the pressure to reopen schools is strong.

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