Teachers share misgivings about reopening too soon

Faulk Middle School teachers Juan and Alma Marie Salazar express their concerns about COVID-19 and returning to the classroom Thursday outside the couple’s Brownsville home. The couple are expected to report for in-service on August 10, but they worry about the risks for themselves and their students that the virus will spread. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Staff Writer

Several Brownsville Independent School District teachers are urging caution in reopening BISD schools for in-person instruction during the 2020-2021 school year.

Alma and Juan Salazar, who both teach at Faulk Middle School, and sisters Celina and Delfina Cisneros, who teach at nearby Canales Elementary, said it’s too early to open the schools, with Texas, Cameron County and Brownsville setting records for new infections.

“They’re telling us to practice social distancing, but the bars are closed and the restaurants had to pull back and yet they’re sending our children, our most precious resource, to the wolves,” Celina Cisneros said. “The faculty and staff will be at risk. If we are going back to school, what type of training are we going to receive? Everybody should get the same quality of training.”

The Salazars, longtime teachers at BISD, said their understanding of guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for reopening schools is that each classroom, typically 20-feet by 30-feet, is supposed to host 22-25 children. With those numbers, social distancing of six feet between people will be impossible and “everyone is going to get contaminated,” Alma Salazar said.

“They’re asking us to self-monitor. Are we also supposed to self-monitor the kids?” she asked.

Alma also pointed out that a great deal of the kids at Faulk are being cared for by their grandparents who, by virtue of their age are at higher risk for infection.

“Are we ready to reopen? The (BISD) board should consider adopting a revised calendar. What is the plan? What are the testing protocols? she asked. “Some of our students and staff have pre-existing conditions, so they’re at higher risk. I’m concerned about when they go home. A lot of our children are raised by their grandparents and a lot go home to Mexico. I”m concerned for everyone involved.”

Juan Salazar said he and all the teachers he knows want to go back to teaching — but under the right conditions.

“Six months into the pandemic I’m anxious and angry,” he said, adding that he’s lost a family member to the virus. “We opened too early. We need leadership. We need to open in a smart fashion,” he said, citing statistics that showed 3,120 infections in Cameron County at last count and 71 deaths, 1,286 infections in Brownsville and 10 of 12 hospitals at capacity.

He said the children and the community “are counting on us to get this right. … I’m a parent and a product of BISD and I will not send my children back until there’s a comprehensive safety plan in place, with monitoring, and not self-monitoring.”

Alma Salazar said TEA is asking the schools to reopen without itself reopening.

“I called them yesterday and (finally) they said they are closed until January.”

Celina Cisneros pointed out that BISD put in many hours planning out how to reopen safely.

“They did come out and talked about the spacing, showing us the Hudson Elementary cafeteria as well as informed the public about the hybrid schedules planned out at that point in time,” she said, referring to when she and her sister taught summer school from their classrooms at Canales.

“A survey was out there for parents to share their input as well,” she wrote in a text message. “But much has happened since and we are anxiously waiting to see what will be our situation come August 5th, which is our first day back.”