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Hutcherson: The safety of Wyoming's students and educators depends on you

Hutcherson: The safety of Wyoming's students and educators depends on you

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A simple Tweet on March 17 summed up how many parents were feeling about educators shortly after school buildings closed in response to the novel coronavirus, saying, “So many parents are trying to home school and finding out how insanely difficult teaching is and gaining a whole new level of respect for teachers”- @Touré. Positive public perception of educators soared in late March, as parents-turned-homeschoolers struggled to balance work, home life and providing an adequate education for their children.

Now, five months later, as educators are putting their health and safety — and that of their loved ones — on the line to serve students in the face of constant threat from COVID-19, they need your support, understanding and recognition now, more than ever before.

COVID-19 laid bare the incredible extent to which our society relies on the services provided by education employees. School, education and education employees are undeniably essential. While we almost universally celebrate nurses, grocery workers, firefighters and other essential workers who have continued to perform their essential job functions through this pandemic, teachers and other education employees clearly fall in this category, especially with school buildings reopening. We must continue to celebrate and support our schools and every employee in those schools.

From the teacher screening students with temperature and symptom checks long before the first bell rings, to the custodians doing deep-cleaning and sanitizing in addition to their normal duties, to the educators tirelessly working to prepare concurrent virtual learning materials — in effect doubling or even tripling a bearable workload — I’m amazed by and proud of our dedicated Wyoming education employees.

In my eyes, this is, in some ways, the dawn of a new day in our shared pandemic era. We have, right now, an opportunity; an opportunity to come together as a community to do the right things to ensure that Wyoming schools stay open and that Wyoming students and educators stay safe.

In school buses, classrooms, cafeterias, libraries and front offices, some of the country’s hardest workers are putting their hearts into providing a quality, safe learning experience for Wyoming students. This Labor Day weekend, as we celebrate the workers who have built our country, I ask you, please take a moment to celebrate and honor the dedicated, indefatigable work of our teachers, education support professionals and all education employees.

In that moment, please commit or reaffirm to yourself and to your friends, family, colleagues and community members that you will do what it takes to keep our schools open — and most importantly, to keep our schools safe. Please keep these last few precious summer gatherings small, socially distance, wear a mask and exercise the commonsense public health protocols that we all now know like the backs of our often-washed hands.

Educators are doing their part to keep students safe, but they cannot do it alone. Parents and community members play a hugely instrumental role in stemming the spread of COVID-19. The single most important thing you can do before sending your children to school is to screen them for COVID-19 symptoms.

Does your child have a fever? Nausea? Chills or fatigue? Visit the Wyoming Education Association’s webpage at wyoea.org for a printable checklist of symptoms. This checklist, a thermometer and less than five minutes each day will help to keep our communities safe and our schools open.

On our website, wyoea.org, you will also find the Safe Schools Pledge. Signing this pledge reaffirms your commitment to screening your child for COVID-19 symptoms before sending them to school. Please, sign it. Exercise public health precautions and keep your kids home from school if they are sick or displaying any — even mild — symptoms or risk factors of COVID-19.

What better way to celebrate our educators, some of the most dedicated professionals in our society, this Labor Day than by signing the Safe Schools Pledge and committing to the safest possible learning and working environment in Wyoming schools?

Essential workers or not, we are all essential to halting the spread of COVID-19. We’re in this together, and we’ll get through it together. Stay safe. Stay diligent. Stay hopeful. Happy Labor Day, Wyoming!

A classroom teacher for 24 years, Grady Hutcherson now serves more than 6,000 education employees as President of the Wyoming Education Association (WEA). The Wyoming Education Association is committed to building and protecting a high-quality, equitable education system for Wyoming students, teachers, and all education employees.

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