Open Letter

Open Letter

Fernando Castro

To all those concerned about children, teachers, and their families,

As HISD hesitates on how the fall school semester will be like, it is worth reflecting on what we are facing. Thursday, March 12, 2020, was the last day when HISD held regular classes. On that date a headline in a local paper reported that a female in Houston had become the city’s third COVID-19 case. Another headline read, “‘Spring break will start a day early for all Houston ISD,’ Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan said Thursday afternoon. ‘Classes will resume Tuesday, March 31st.'” So on that date 214,175 students, 11,909 teachers and 28,652 staff members went home. In other words, a quarter of a million people who every day come together in 284 schools were taken out of the equation of COVID-19 contagion.

Nevertheless, on Monday June 22nd, there were in Houston 14,322 cases of COVID-19, and 196 people had died. In spite of these numbers one of HISD’s plans is to resume regular classes in August of this year. What is wrong with this picture? Three cases of COVID-19 closed the city’s schools, and 14,000 cases may open them up!!

By now most of us can name a person whom we know who has or has had the virus. By and large people who have kept a careful quarantine have not contracted the virus. Indeed, staying at home most of the time has not been easy for anyone. It has taken a toll on parents and children alike. One mother I know had to take charge of her children’s education. She discovered her son had some gaps in his knowledge of basic literature. “When you go to college,” she advised him, “You need to be familiar with certain books.” In a typical ten-year old fashion, the youngster answered, “Mom, I don’t care.” “How can you say you don’t care?” she insisted. The boy replied, “I probably won’t even be alive by then.” Sobbing and in tears, mom hugged her son and reassured him. This is a true story. It is not a fake fact. It is not something I made up in order to convince you that there is no safe way to reopen the schools for in-class instruction this fall.  If HISD does so, they will be reinserting a quarter of a million people into the contagion equation, at a time when the spread of the virus is dangerously high.

Now let us imagine how an open-school-to-kids scenario could be like. On day one all students will have their temperatures checked. That will take at least a couple of hours. Some students will not have a face mask, so one will have to be provided (many will lose their mask before the end of the day). It will be 10 am before all students are seated in their classrooms. In the best-case scenario, classes will be limited to 10 students, properly spaced out in order to respect social distancing. Their teacher will also be wearing a mask and probably a face shield as well. His/her voice, as well as the kids’ voices will be muffled. Hearing each other will be a challenge. 

Teachers will not be able to approach students to help them 1:1 with their work. At best, he/she will have to check their work with gloves on. When recess comes around, students will be advised to keep social distancing, but most won’t. The most crowded event of the day will be lunch. How will that take place? Will students keep social distancing or eat very close to each other? Will there be two lunch shifts for each grade?  In the cafeteria, the most crowded space in the school, students will have to take off their masks in order to eat.

My prediction is that by day two or three there will be a detected case of COVID-19. Why? Because kids live with parents whose jobs are in the most varied fields of work: medical, construction, legal, supermarkets, educational, transportation, police, etc. At least one of the  parents will bring home the virus, and his/her children will bring it to school. Kids will be the vehicles that will spread the virus. This has already happened even in adult institutions with fewer people. To this date 146 officers of the HPD and 88 HFD firefighters have tested positive. Remember the incubation period of the virus goes from 2 to 14 days and 50% of infected people are asymptomatic. Many will not even know they are carriers! Under these conditions a quarter of a million people and their families (at least another half million more) may be back in the contagion equation.

So what will happen when a fever is detected on someone or somebody tests positive? Everybody goes home? Everybody gets tested before they are admitted back? How many times will that happen during the first school semester? Will HISD be legally liable for the child and his family catching the virus?

What if a teacher contracts the disease? Will that teacher be allowed back after recovery? Will the teacher have some remaining complication after recovery (pulmonary, renal, cardiac, cerebral)? The horrible after-recovery complications have been understated. Who will pay in case the teacher needs to be hospitalized? Will Worker’s Compensation pick up the bill? Or, will they allege that it cannot be determined with certainty that the teacher caught the virus in school while working? What about students and teachers with risk factors (diabetes, high blood pressure, anemia, asthma, age, etc.), will HISD differentiate for them? In other words, will their teaching conditions be different from those of younger and healthier teachers? Equity in the differentiation lexicon means to provide the resources necessary to people who have a disadvantage so that they can thrive as much as others who do not have it.

It is a mirage to think that there is a safe way to resume school classes with students in the classroom. As mirages do, the illusion will dissipate when we get close to it. But by then, it will be too late because the first week of school will likely rekindle the epidemic. Moreover we will have lost precious time that we could have used to make online classes available for all students a real option.

Fernando Castro
HISD teacher

Posted: June 25, 2020 at 9:25 pm

There are 6 comments for this article
  1. Joe at 1:47 pm

    Well what in the heck are working parents supposed to do? Especially those who are in low income and lower mid class. Do we quit working to support or kids education. I heard were lazy because we can not juggle all of this. Maybe some people can afford for one parent to stay home and teach their kids when they have a higher education of learning not like others. Is it still the presidents fault and protestors for sure had masks on every last one did. Lets not forget about HISD and their high taxes.

    • Martell at 3:15 am

      Mr. Joe,
      I know how you feel. My neighborhood has beautiful and flop houses. I see homeless daily. Maybe you aren’t homeless, and you care enough about your child’s life and education to write this letter. Just please remember this pandemic won’t last forever and try to hold on for one school year. Blessings.

  2. Beatriz Gonzalez at 2:40 pm

    This letter is so true to everything in the educational system and with the COVID 19 Pandemic. Just keep students teacher and staff safe. Keep the virtual online classes priority.

    • Spencer at 3:17 pm

      This is a new situation to everyone.I personally think on line virtual teaching is the answer.You can make the case of young students being low risk but who can know.I would suggest starting with a small group & see if infection state is minimal.But to expose the entire school seems shallow not considering factors unknown.

  3. Fernando Castro at 3:24 pm

    I understand the frustration of parents who need to have their children looked after so they can work. However, consider the not unlikely possibility of your child being infected in school and bringing the virus home. Imagine that scenario! Then one parent or both will be infected and not be able to work. This virus is unpredictable: it can infect you with no symptoms, mild symptoms, or devastating symptoms. If the latter, the treatment itself is tantamount to torture. Many of the latter, if they survive, have to be treated for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. You may survive and lose a lung, or renal function, or cognitive capacities. You have to ask yourself whether it is worth risking your family’s lives.

  4. David Daniel at 8:25 am

    I’ve enjoyed reading your comments, Fernando. I’m wondering how much your ideas have changed now that we’re a year later in the Pandemic. I don’t pretend to have the solution, but wish everyone that can would get vaccinated and wear a mask.
    David Daniel
    A former Student of yours.

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