Health concerns mount for educators returning to classrooms in the fall

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DENVER (KDVR) — Most schools across the Denver metro are preparing for a mix of in-classroom and online education starting this fall.

Deciding to return to the classroom environment is a tough choice for many teachers. They know in-person education is preferred, but older teachers — and those with health issues — are weighing their options.

“My biggest concern is just how are we going to do it,” second grade teacher Julie Weathers said. “What is it going to look like in my classroom?”

Weathers, who teaches in the Highlands area of Denver, is not as concerned about contracting COVID-19 after hearing reports that children may not spread it as easily as adults. But other educators are worried.

“I’m very nervous about it,” Ami Prichard said, who is an educator in Jefferson County. “I think most educators are very concerned. We want to make sure we can keep ourselves safe, our students safe and our families safe.”

Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association, said many districts in the state are working with individual teachers on options that put a priority on their health. 

Some educators will continue teaching online — a move giving families the option to keep their children home. That is an attractive option for teachers concerned about their risk factors.

A lack of available substitute teachers — and substitute teachers unwilling to take the health risk of working during a pandemic — could lead to a scheduling nightmare for school administrators.

“Colorado, prior to COVID-19, was already facing an educator shortage, which included a substitute shortage,” Baca-Oehlert explained.

Many substitutes are retired — older people — who are at a greater risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract the virus.

“With the news that some cases are spiking, and just the unknowns of what August is going to look like, that is certainly causing some anxiety,” Baca-Oehlert said.

Each district is developing reopening plans that have various similarities and differences. Part of that planning includes the extent of quarantines if a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19.

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