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Staff and teachers cheer for Madelyn Richardson during a drive-thru Kindergarten Closing Ceremony in the parking lot of Hynes-UNO charter school in New Orleans, La. Thursday, May 14, 2020. Parents decorated their cars for the parade and students received a certificate and gift bag. The students are the first class for the Hynes-UNO campus on Chatham Drive which will add students each year until the eight grade.

I am writing as a current teacher in New Orleans. I am urging the School Board to make Orleans the parish where students and teachers don’t die of COVID-19.

This week, I signed a petition with three demands: 1) During virtual learning and professional development, in-person attendance must be optional for all teachers and staff. 2) Schools cannot resume in-person instruction until cases in Orleans Parish decrease to 5% positive for a seven-day cycle and there are 50 or fewer cases for seven consecutive days. 3) Any plan for in-person school must include regular and prioritized testing for all school staff.

1) Professional development and virtual learning can be conducted from home — we did it in March, April, and May. In this city, I currently know pregnant teachers, teachers over 60, teachers with diabetes, teachers with cancer, teachers with young children, and teachers who live with parents over 80. These teachers are being told that they must report to work in person or apply for an exception, which may lead to the loss of their employment. This behavior is discriminatory and disturbing. While I am lucky to work for a school that is valuing my safety and agency, I speak for those who are afraid or have been silenced.

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2) Asymptomatic people are transmitting the virus, especially those in their 20s and 30s, and the majority of our city’s teachers fall into this demographic. We must have a decrease in cases before in-person learning can even be considered.

3) We know that many cases are asymptomatic. We know that long-term effects of this virus include lung scarring, neurological damage, and possible infertility. We know that survivor's guilt will become a side effect of teaching this year if we unknowingly spread the virus to our students and colleagues. We need free, regular, and available testing to be in these buildings together. Otherwise, there will be blood on the city’s hands.

We need to petition the School Board, because this is urgent. Parents won't send their children to school if they lose all trust that schools can be made safe. And with the amount of community spread we are currently experiencing, schools cannot be made safe. In Orleans Parish, we have no official structure for teachers to speak as a group, and charter leaders routinely and regularly discourage teachers and staff from organizing. You have to help us. Petition the board.

SHANNON BROWN

pre-k teacher

New Orleans