A Letter to My School Board (Pandemic 2020)

Dear School Board Members,

After listening to this week’s school board meeting, I felt a need to write you all.

After 28 years teaching in Volusia County Schools, I am still excited about being in the classroom, but this summer that excitement is tempered with the uncertainty of going back to school in the midst of a pandemic. We moved the entire fourth quarter online; school board meetings have moved online; graduation is being socially distanced; Volusia Learns is online. You have been taking steps to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic appeared in Florida in mid-March and we moved to remote learning, the only thing that has changed is that when we left for Spring Break, Florida had 38 cases, but we have now had over 141,000 cases and nearly 3,500 deaths, and those numbers are rising. Volusia County has had over 9,500 cases and over 50 deaths. There is no vaccine yet. There is no real drug treatment to alleviate symptoms. We are in a worse predicament than we were back in March or April, and yet Volusia County is planning on a full brick-and-mortar opening in August.  I agree with statements that our custodial staff needs to be more vigilant, but from the research I have been doing, surfaces are less an issue than airborne transmission. Making masks a parental choice was mentioned. How does making masks optional make sense when people’s lives are on the line, yet we mandate a strict dress code when the way students dress really endangers no one?

I have been looking at plans put forth by other Florida districts and by districts around the country. There are options for making school populations less crowded without much additional cost. Why are we not looking at those other models? Are we simply hoping that so many students will choose Florida or Volusia virtual schools that the population will drop enough on its own? We can’t count on that.

I always consider that we as educators, as the adults in the district, need to be displaying and modeling the intellectual integrity and critical thinking we are trying to pass on to students. This is important all the time, but it is especially important now. I ask my 9th grade English students to consider the purpose of education as our inquiry question for the year.

One purpose of education is to equip us as a society to deal with crises like this one. History should inform what we do. Science and mathematics should help us evaluate the situation we are in and set our policies. English should help us separate fact from fiction, help to evaluate which sources of information are reliable and which are not. If education ever matters, it matters now. This isn’t college and careers. This is life.

I have had to wonder if I am willing to come back this August. I am getting older. I tend to have classes of 32. If we have a full opening, I don’t see that changing much. I will have full classes, optional masks, and not much faith in the cleanliness of our schools. I can’t afford to go find something else to do in these tough economic times, so I guess I will go in each day and hope for the best. I will have to risk it. I will have to place my life in your hands. Your decisions can mitigate that risk or increase it.

I will be watching developments very carefully, and with great trepidation.

Thank you for your consideration,

David Lee Finkle

DeLand High School

2005 Volusia County Teacher of the Year