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360: Colorado teachers share perspectives on returning to classroom

Many feel health and safety must come first
Kids walking in school stock
Posted at 10:22 AM, Jul 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-30 12:22:03-04

Editor's Note: Denver7 360 stories explore multiple sides of the topics that matter most to Coloradans, bringing in different perspectives so you can make up your own mind about the issues. To comment on this or other 360 stories, email us at 360@TheDenverChannel.com. See more 360 stories here.

Teachers in every school district in the Denver metro area have expressed concerns about schools reopening, but not all for the same reasons. There are more than 55,000 teachers in Colorado. They are different ages, have different ethnic backgrounds, and teach different grades and subjects.

As part of Denver7’s commitment to 360 reporting, we talked to several teachers about their views on returning to the classroom.

Dylan Ford, a band and orchestra teacher at Dakota Ridge High School, says there’s no feasible way to socially distance 60 to 75 kids in his music classroom. He said he believes schools should have spent the summer working to make remote learning better.

“There are many teachers, including myself, that are looking at wonderful ways to make remote learning a much more fruitful experience for everyone involved,” said Ford.

He says teachers can be creative with how they deliver lessons online and engage students from a distance. They can also be creative about solving childcare issues. But schools can’t be creative about preventing a virus from spreading.

“I want to work together with parents to be creative about solving the childcare problem,” Ford said. “I don’t know if the answer to that is to unsafely stuff students into schools.”

Nancy Elliott, a 4th grade teacher at Kendrick Lakes Elementary School in Lakewood, added that in-person learning is not going to be ideal this year because of all the restrictions.

“Parents aren’t going to be able to see (the teacher) walking around, leaning over their shoulder and discussing their paper with them — all those personal touches and all the things that it takes to teach really well,” said Elliott.

Branta Lockett, an elementary teacher at DCIS at Ford in Denver, said she’s concerned about her students of color and families in her community. One of her students lost a parent to COVID-19 in the spring.

“Death is real thing and to know that COVID-19 is killing people and affecting certain communities more than others — that’s what keeps me up and makes me very anxious about returning to school,” she said.

She knows that some of her students are already disadvantaged and need to be in school, but she says schools must consider their health first.

“I’m willing to do what i need to do to make sure I’m safe, my students are safe, their families are safe, and our communities are safe,” she said.

Not every teacher agrees schools should stay closed. Shannon Salerno, an elementary school teacher in Denver Public Schools, is 65, an age that makes her more vulnerable to the virus. But she still wants to be with her kids.

“Safe contact in my view is better than no contact,” she said.

She said the necessary precautions need to be taken, and teachers her age or with health conditions should be given opportunities to stay remote.

“I think teachers are miracle workers. We are super heroes, and we can do it," said Salerno.