Faced with COVID-19 uncertainties, some teachers call it quits

Nancy Jones has been a teacher for three decades. She now has made the tough decision to retire.
Updated: Jul. 23, 2020 at 11:15 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Nancy Jones has been a teacher for three decades.

She taught at Kohala Elementary School on the Big Island, and was going to be a fifth grade teacher at Pahoa Elementary School this fall.

Instead, she has decided to retire instead of starting the new school year Aug. 4.

[Read more: 2 more unions join teachers in calling for delay in reopening public school campuses]

“Really, it’s COVID, and returning to the classroom so soon,” Jones said. “I don’t feel like it’s worth risking my life. I told my friends and family this is like playing Russian roulette.”

Jones said she made the difficult decision to end her teaching career because her age and other health issues put her in a higher risk category for getting the coronavirus.

But she’s also concerned about the students and many others on campus.

“I’m really appalled in many ways that we would even put people in this situation,” Jones said. “Our lunch workers. Our custodians. Our secretaries. The backbones of our school are going to be exposed every single day.”

For Kai Mead, a fourth grade teacher at Waialae Public Charter Elementary School, it’s a problem of finding care for her own three kids.

“That’s probably our biggest challenge. And there’s no other child care options for me because this is so last minute, so I’m being forced to take a leave of absence for the next 12 weeks in order to be at home with my kids,” said Mead.

Mead is also concerned that school won’t have enough time to prepare.

“Our school is planning to give some training on August 2nd and 3rd in the mornings, but then school starts on the 4th. So teachers are expected to receive that training, process it, and then do something with it to make plans the very next day,” she said.

Larry Wayman, 80, teaches newswriting and drama at Farrington High School. He’s been an educator since 1962. Is he ready to retire?

“No, I don’t feel that right now. Yet,” he said, laughing. “It all depends on what the board comes up with and what the school asks me to do.”

Wayman said he’ll be able to do more project-based assignments. He’s resisted calls from others to retire, but he’s aware of the risks.

“It would be horrible if I thought that I would somehow be responsible for someone else’s illness. And if that put me in that kind of a position, I would leave in a second,” he said.

“I would hate to think that I can’t do what I understand myself to be, which is a teacher.”

The Board of Education is scheduled to decide Thursday on the DOE’s plan to reopen schools.

As of Wednesday night, 4,000 pages of written testimony had been submitted by school administrators, teachers and parents.

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