“I wrote letters to my family to say goodbye.” Educators protest the safe reopening of schools

KNWA

"Our chances of survival are lower and those are things that have to be considered," Hagers said. "I have a 13-year-old son that deserves to have his mother."

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Educators, community members, and parents held a peaceful protest in Fayetteville, in hopes of getting legislators to reconsider the state’s back-to-school plan.

I myself wrote my will. I wrote letters to my family to say goodbye.

CHARICE HANDFORD, SCIENCE TEACHER, FARMINGTON JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL 

Emotions are high as students are set to head back to the classroom in less than two weeks during this health public crisis.

At the end of the day, it’s lives that matter the most, and we need to be alive to be able to teach them we can’t teach them if we’re not.

MEME HAGERS, MUSIC TEACHER, FAYETTEVILLE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

I have not talked to anybody that’s adamant that we should go back, not one single teacher.

CHARICE HANDFORD, SCIENCE TEACHER, FARMINGTON JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL 

On Monday, August 10, nearly 100 people stood in solidarity, requesting Governor Asa Hutchinson to push back the date for students returning to classes — because right now they feel it isn’t safe.

Teachers like Meme Hagers, with Fayetteville Public Schools, and Charice Handford, with Farmington Public Schools, said this protest felt like the last resort in the fight for their lives.

“I think it’s going to break my heart when we hear about the first teacher or student ending up in the hospital or passing away because I’m sure at that point that’s when they’re going to shut things down,” Handford said. “We’re all going to be brokenhearted, and we’re also praying that it’s not us.”

MEME HAGERS, FAYETTEVILLE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Both educators have underlying health conditions.

“Our chances of survival are lower and those are things that have to be considered,” Hagers said. “I have a 13-year-old son that deserves to have his mother.”

Since there is no other option other than to quit, they said they will just have to take that risk.

I feel like we’re being treated as if we are expendable.

CHARICE HANDFORD, SCIENCE TEACHER, FARMINGTON JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL 

The Fayetteville Education Association organized the protest.

I think everyone is feeling very nervous and very unsettled going into this year. It’s unlike any other year that we’ve ever had before.

ANNA BEAULIEU, FAYETTEVILLE EDUCATION ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT

FEA President Anna Beaulieu said she knows many educators who don’t feel like their voices are being heard.

“We have used every appropriate channel to discuss our concerns,” she said. “We have written to the State Board of Education, we have written to our legislators, and we’ve written to the governor.”

She said the protest was a way to get legislators’ attention and reiterate that educators do want to reopen schools, but they want to do it when it’s safe.

“Our current reality is really quite scary and we are looking for some specificity as to when can we expect schools to close, when should we close them, when should we reopen them, who needs to quarantine who doesn’t,” she said. “All those things are still a little too nebulous to feel 100% safe at returning.”

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