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'We have a lot of fears': Teachers nervous and excited to return to class
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'We have a lot of fears': Teachers nervous and excited to return to class

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Schools coming back online

Teacher Michelle Hammond pauses for a photo Thursday at O'Leary Middle School in Twin Falls.

TWIN FALLS — Nerves usually accompany teachers on the first day of school, but this year instructors have a wide range of emotions about returning to class amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

David Palmer is a co-president for Twin Falls Education Association and a teacher at South Hills Middle School. He said he’s feeling a little bit of everything as he prepares to return to school.

“I’m still anxious, I’m still nervous, I’m still excited, I’m still ready to do this again,” Palmer said. “It’s every emotion that I can possibly put into words.”

The first day of school in Twin Falls is set for Aug. 19. The district recently adopted a reopening plan that outlines four levels of district operation based on the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak in the area, from mostly normal school days to fully remote instruction.

Board members are expected to decide Monday which level of operation to start the year in. That decision will likely depend on a recommendation from South Central Public Health District, which recently set a framework for identifying community risk.

Education Association co-president and South Hills teacher Joe Bartley said he hopes the district takes a measured, “toe-in-the-water” approach in its decision to start the school year.

“One of my biggest concerns is opening up and shutting back down immediately,” Bartley said. “I feel like it would be very detrimental to the kids and families.

“We would rather be a little more cautious than cavalier about this,” he said.

The district’s reopening plan includes a mask mandate for all students and staff. Palmer said he likes the requirement and said it will help keep students and their families safe.

“Wearing a mask while teaching is horribly uncomfortable and unpleasant,” Palmer said, “but if it means we have a chance to have more kids in the building and help them … then I think it’s a good thing.”

O'Leary Middle School teacher Camille Flournoy said she appreciates the mask requirements in schools, but without one for the rest of the community, returning to in-person instruction could still be dangerous. She said of course teachers want to return to class, but many are high risk themselves or live with people who are.

“It brings up a lot of different emotions,” Flournoy said. “You’re responsible not only for thinking about the balance of keeping people you live with at high risk safe, but also the responsibility you have as a teacher to your students.

“We’re human,” she said. “We have a lot of fears.”

District spokesperson Eva Craner acknowledged that some teachers may be at high risk. There is not an option for teachers to opt-out of the school year, she said, but the district’s human resources department is working with employees to come up with solutions.

“We do have to have staff members in our buildings in order to run schools,” Craner said.

Bartley said in-person instruction is the best way to help students learn and grow socially and emotionally. He said he’s optimistic and feels the district is well prepared, but opening schools in a pandemic does complicate things.

“It’s a very uneasy feeling, rather than compared to a joyous feeling,” he said. “But at the same time, I feel like it’s an essential thing for our community and we’re going to do our best.”

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