Teachers weigh in about reopening schools in the fall

MARYSVILLE, Wash. - Shawn Newkirk, a middle school history teacher, is spending a lot more time these days thinking about the present than the past.

“We are living in 1918, 1929 and 1968, it’s happening at the exact same time. I tell my students you are living through three or four eras of history,” Newkirk said.

A big part of what is to come of this era is what education will look like in the fall amid a pandemic.

“When I have 36 kids in a class, how am I going to socially distance around that?” Newkirk said.

Newkirk is a teacher in the Marysville School District and said he and other teachers were able to pivot quickly when the pandemic happened. Their creativity will be put to the test come this fall as many teachers must brainstorm ways to get kids back in the classroom safely.

“Our association and district are open to all possibilities at this point,” Marysville Education Association President Randy Davis said.

Davis said most teachers want to teach their students in the classroom face-to-face.

He says health guidelines are clear, but the solutions on how to achieve them are not.

“Solutions are kind of vague, so it’s going to take a lot of work by local districts, including here in Marysville,” Davis said.

With overcrowding a problem prior to COVID-19, both Davis and Newkirk say a rotating or split schedule may have to be strongly considered.

But Newkirk said he still has mixed feelings about a split schedule since that will put a lot of strain on parents.

“This is kind of a big, grand experiment,” Davis said.

With any experiment, the results can vary, but for now, Newkirk can tell you that remote learning has meant academics have taken a back seat.

He says more than half of his students have been having a hard time keeping up with assignments.

“The reasoning is all over the place,” Newkirk said.

He said all of the reasoning and challenges are understandable.

During these unprecedented times, Newkirk’s priority isn’t on a student’s academic achievement but their well-being instead.

“It’s been extremely rough, especially with the students who I don’t know how they are doing at all,” Newkirk said.

He teaches 180 students and checks in with the vast majority of them daily. But he's been unable to reach several students online, a constant concern for him, he said.

On Tuesday, the district said they are still in the preliminary stages of discussions on how to re-open schools. No decisions have been made and the timeline of when an announcement could come is unclear.

The district said they do not want to announce a decision prematurely to then have to change at a later date.