Tribune-Star Editorial graphic

Health care workers, first responders and essential services employees have endured the anxiety since March.

Now, teachers, principals, counselors, school nurses, cafeteria crews, custodians and bus drivers are coping with a similar anxiety, but with a new twist.

The coronavirus pandemic touches all aspects of formerly normal daily life. Almost nothing happens the same as it did before this highly contagious disease spread across the planet, infecting nearly 17 million people and claiming more than 650,000 lives in just a few months. Hospitalizations and deaths have increased in many U.S. states during July, including Indiana.

Nurses, doctors, hospital staffs, emergency technicians and rescue crews have risked their own health to preserve the lives of others. A gamut of essential workers, from grocery store clerks to morticians have faced personal peril, too.

The traditional resumption of school each August poses new concerns for those who teach, those who learn and those who help make that educational process function. Thousands of young people, from 5-year-olds to 18-year-olds, are scheduled to return to classes this month, beginning the 2020-2021 school year. The health of the kids, as well as the educators and support staff, is one of the concerns. Likewise, worries exist over the potential for coronavirus outbreaks with so many people concentrated in every building, even with myriad safety precautions in place.

The complexities led the Vigo County School Corp. to move its start date to Aug. 18, a one-week delay.

A nationwide survey by the publication Education Week showed that 43% of teachers themselves have health conditions considered high-risk for COVID-19. Those conditions susceptible to coronavirus include teachers who are obese, diabetic, asthmatic, pregnant or suffering chronic high blood pressure. Also, 18% of teachers are older than age 55, another vulnerable demographic targeted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It is not surprising that more than three-quarters of teachers surveyed last week by Education Week reported they were either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the health risks they will face through in-person classes this fall.

Teachers are an integral part of this community. More than 2,300 people work for the VCSC. It is, by far, Terre Haute’s largest employer. Nearly 14,000 students are enrolled in the VCSC’s 28 schools, as well as its Virtual Success Academy. Their teachers and staffers are balancing concerns for their own well-being with that of the kids in their classes. Young people, so far, have generally avoided the harshest pains of COVID-19, but could also spread the virus to older people around them — including their parents and teachers.

VCSC leaders have crafted a flexible plan for reopening the schools, with a hybrid of online and in-person classes, mandatory face masking and fully virtual school options. Such a plan is a massive undertaking, given the number of children, employees and state guidelines involved. So, it could change often.

Teachers experience anxiety in anticipation of routine school years. This bundle of uncertainties has ratcheted up that anxiety to previously unforeseen levels. Many of them buy extra resources, out of their own pockets, for their classrooms and needy students. They serve as sources of advice and consolation for many kids with troubled home lives. And, teachers have been doing their jobs in school buildings that now must be guarded by school protection officers, following waves of school shootings since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in 2012.

This summer, teachers are answering emails and social media messages from parents worried about COVID and the adjustments to continue learning around it. Teachers’ own families fear for their health, too.

This community has shown strong support for health care employees, first responders and essential workers through the pandemic. It is equally important for churches, mental health experts, social services outlets, friends and neighbors to continue that support for those who will educate Vigo County’s youngsters through this unpredictable fall and winter.

We all hope for better days ahead. Such a future relies upon teachers and their coworkers — the folks on the front lines of the noble cause of education.

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