For me, it all started with an air conditioner.
I was plugging it back into the outlet after it inexplicably stopped. When I did, the electricity short-circuited for the umpteenth time that week.
It was a balmy 83 degrees in my crowded classroom during an unusually warm May. And I just had it. So I asked my administrator why my electricity wasn't working after the fourth "fix."
That was the day I learned about the negative factor in Colorado school finance.
After years in the classroom, I decided to do something about it and run for office. Since then, I've learned that public service and leadership can be hard. For me, it always boils down to how a potential policy impacts working families in Southern Colorado.
The choice surrounding what to do in public education during COVID-19 is also not an easy one. It is tempting, particularly given the expense of childcare and mental exhaustion, to simply send children back to school.
At my house, we're evaluating our tight family budget since my husband and I earn public service salaries.
Fading mental health among children is also concerning; that's why the state budget has allocated more resources than ever to crisis services.
These are all important considerations, but the bottom line is this: is it safe for children and teachers to return to the classroom?
The data says no. We are in the resurgence of a deadly, contagious virus that has now killed nearly 150,000 Americans. We don't know how to treat it, let alone cure or vaccinate against it.
In Tennessee alone, a state with minimal prevention/restrictions, just over 7,500 school-aged children were diagnosed with COVID-19. Further studies also indicate that these infected children will suffer permanent cardiovascular damage and that kids 10-plus can transmit the virus.
Pueblo County District 70 did this right. They worked closely with teachers early during the crisis, eventually opting for distance learning and a delayed start for teacher preparation.
Pueblo City Schools District 60 didn’t.
I wrote them an open letter weeks ago, urging the D60's School Board to follow D70's leadership, prioritize public health and safety, and implement distance learning for Fall 2020.
Given that our schools don't have the funding for functional HVAC, electricity systems, or even running hot water, I find it impossible to believe that D60 suddenly has the resources to hire adequate staff such as teachers, paraeducators, and janitors to ensure proper sanitation, mask-wearing, and social distancing procedures.
I said as much in a social media post. In response, a sitting D60 School Board member decided to give me a phone call.
He raged about my post being "thoughtless and incendiary," as though I hadn't worked in those very same classrooms for years, or had any valuable professional input as the Vice-Chair of the House Education Committee.
He threatened my political career, as though I care about that as much as the safety of my friends and students like my son. He offered a litany of defensive excuses for continuing in-person instruction; they stemmed from a startling lack of concern for student safety, an outright disdain toward input offered by teachers, and an apathy for putting in the hard work of crafting real, viable solutions.
A D60 administrator later reinforced this hostility by making nasty, public comments complaining about my input, as though our public officials and their premature, ill-conceived policies should somehow be immune from public criticism.
As a former D60 teacher, and current D60 parent, it’s hard to say what I found most offensive.
The bottom line is that current policy means teachers will have to pick between their livelihoods and their lives. Teachers also have families, families that are sometimes comprised of aging grandparents, immuno-compromised relatives, and children with disabilities like mine.
When anyone in those high-risk categories is infected, they will get even sicker with permanent cardiovascular damage, and perhaps even die.
The D60 administration shouldn't contribute to a false sense of security as infection and death rates rise by deciding that it is safe to return to crowded public schools. And they definitely shouldn’t ask teachers to face a danger that they themselves are unwilling to face, as they do their jobs from the safety of their own homes.
Paper masks, a half-time janitor, and Clorox wipes won't save our schools from this highly contagious virus. A random meteor didn't fall out of the sky and kill 150,000 Americans;
COVID-19 and our slowly reactive government and half-measure policies did.
Bri Buentello is a Democratic state representative in House District 47, which includes parts of Pueblo.