As parents in the Janesville School District weigh how to send their children back to school this fall, teachers are also preparing for an academic year unlike any other.

Some teachers are worried about a number of unknowns surrounding their return to work, Janesville Education Association President Dave Groth said.

“They’re concerned about safety,” he said.

“I think we (teachers) mirror the community. I think some of the teachers are just very afraid they’re going to catch it or their kids will catch it,” he said. “Others are not as afraid, but I think we all understand that when you put that many people together, that’s going to be really hard to keep everyone safe if the disease is prevalent in the community. So we’re going to have to work really hard.”

A lot to think about

Groth said he speaks with Superintendent Steve Pophal regularly about the district’s reopening procedures. He appreciates the measures the district has in place but worries the district doesn’t have enough time to plan for every possible scenario or need.

“A lot of the teachers are worried about their class and how that’s going to work. There’s just so many things to think about with masks and how many students come in contact with other students. As much as we need to think about that stuff, I’m thinking about the bigger stuff like day care, buses, staffing. There’s just a lot of stuff that needs to be worked out,” he said.

On top of teaching the standard curriculum, teachers will have to educate younger students about the importance of washing hands, wearing face masks and physical distancing, Groth said.

Some teachers are also concerned about how face masks might affect the learning environment. While most teachers agree that they should be used, there are concerns over missing facial cues and making up for that, Groth said.

“Children and teachers gain a lot by the expressions on your face,” Groth said. “Not being able to see these facial expressions because of masks that hide whether they get a topic or welcoming kids, it could be different and tough this year. Not being able to get a good smile across to kids is going to be hard.”

Groth said he believes the district will provide teachers with protective equipment, and its willingness to allow at-risk teachers to work at ARISE Virtual Academy this fall makes a positive difference in protecting staff, he said.

When the district receives its enrollment numbers for virtual, blended and completely in-person learning at the end of July, Groth said he will work with Pophal and district leaders to finalize staffing plans. The district plans to pay teachers their full salaries, a gesture teachers appreciated, Groth said.

Teaching and parenting

Differences in return-to-school plans across the state could lead to other problems for those teachers who are also parents of school-aged kids, he said.

The Madison Metropolitan School District, for instance, is expected to start the school year completely online. For teachers who work in Janesville and have children attending school in Madison, finding child care during the day could pose a problem.

Groth said teachers are also concerned about the possibility of having to go fully online and what that might mean for their child care arrangements. Some day cares need registration up to a year in advance, and other child care centers are closed or limiting the number of enrolled children because of the pandemic, he said.

“I have heard concern over day cares and after-school care because we’re stretched thin,” Groth said. “If we go virtual for a few months, how do parents, teachers and day cares adjust to that snap of a finger if we decide when to turn on and off (in-person) school?”

Staying flexible

He said as the virus changes and the situation develops over the next several weeks, the district needs to be prepared and willing to adapt.

“My biggest concern is that COVID is coming back. I think everyone was ready for it to die off and prepare for flu season, but now it seems to be as prevalent today as it was when we closed school earlier than usual,” he said.

As other districts across the state and country return to the classroom before Janesville, Groth said he hopes the district will pay attention to how other districts manage reopening schools. He pointed to some European school systems that have limited outbreaks by reducing class sizes.