Charlotte teacher with COVID-19 shares concerns over re-opening schools

My colleague Michelle Vail has been teaching with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools for 17 years and is an 8th grade science teacher as well as Athletic Director at Waddell Language Academy.

She’s currently battling COVID-19 which she contracted about a month ago.

Earlier this week Ms. Vail reached out to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education about her experience in hopes that it would inform the board’s decision making process on a potential school reopening in August.

I share that communication below with her permission:

I know that a board meeting is being held this evening regarding the opening of schools so I wanted to take a moment to share my concerns as an educator who has had COVID since June 1st. Please forgive that this is a little long and wordy but I have a lot to say.

First, I did everything right, just as we were being advised. I only went out for necessities. I wore a mask and gloves, socially distanced from others, washed my hands, and/or used hand sanitizer when necessary. However, in the last week of May I received some news that a friend of mine that I have known for 30+ years, parents were in a tragic car accident. Her mother has Alzheimer’s and her father was the primary caregiver. Unfortunately, he did not survive. I came to Ohio to help.

On June 1, we picked her mother up from the hospital. They scanned our foreheads as we entered fully protected and we waited in a secure area isolated. Three days later we discover they sent her home with COVID-19! In a matter of days, this virus took down a household of 5! Every single one of us exhibited different symptoms and only 2 of the 5 started with a fever. I had that terrible whooping cough, sore throat, and extreme weakness. The weakness was so bad that I could not wash my hair without taking a break because I was out of breath raising my arms over my head. The symptoms seemed to vary across the board, so if scanning staff/students/parents’ foreheads for fever is a proposed option for schools to open, it’s not a good one.

Three of the five have now tested negative for COVID. One was just tested today because he was the last to get it; he got it from us. Today he and I lost the nasal congestion we had been having but we also completely lost our sense of smell?! That goes along with our lack of taste. Unfortunately, I have had two positive tests, so I am still in isolation in Ohio. They have also been advised to quarantine with me. I also have a compromised immune system so that could be slowing down the process. Both Mecklenburg and Ohio Health Departments have contacted me and I asked ODH if I needed to isolate from the others in the house if they have already had it and he said there were a lot of variables because they know so little about this virus. However, since it was all within a month he “assumed” it should be okay, but they should self-quarantine and use extra precaution when going out. They just don’t know how long the antibodies will last. With Chicken Pox, they last a lifetime, with Mono six months, COVID??

Personally, I don’t feel safe going back into a building. I take care of my 79-year-old father. If I bring this home to him, I would kill him. I don’t know that I would survive if I were to get this a second time. Might I also point out that many staff members and parents would fall into the critical age range for COVID-19? Students may not be getting ill with COVID, but they could transmit the virus to others.

Has anyone thought about what this would look like in person? Students would not be able to hear the teacher through the mask if they are in the middle or back of the classroom and vice versa. Are we going to be provided headphones with mics? Will teachers be provided face shields and other personal protective gear so they can get closer to the students to answer questions and provide individualized instruction? Will the cafeterias, classrooms, hallways, libraries, and other common areas be marked for social distancing? Who will be expected to be monitoring this? Will classroom doors be expected to be closed and locked at all times? If so, will teachers be provided with wipes to clean the door handles? They will also need wipes for the light switches? How will restroom breaks expect to be managed at the elementary and middle school level? Will the water fountains be blocked off? Will there be sports? How will social distance and safety be maintained? Again, who will be expected to monitor this? Who will clean the equipment? What about PE/PE Equipment? Who will clean the playground equipment for elementary school? Will staff be provided with gloves for every time they have to open an interior/exterior door? These are just some of the questions that I have.

If you go with the 50% model, will teachers be recording the lessons that they do in person with the class? If so, will the equipment be provided or will we be expected to create something completely different? It would be extremely difficult to get through the entire curriculum with the 50% model and pass an EOG/EOC?

I wanted you to have some first-hand information from someone who WILL be on that frontline. I love what I do and I really did miss my students. I missed them terribly, so much that I would sacrifice seeing them in person to protect them and their families by doing remote learning. Remote learning was NOT a walk in the park! I know that myself and many of my colleagues were working much harder and longer hours than before. I had meetings with students for help as late as 8:30 PM! I never felt so exhausted before and I might have only walked 1200 steps the entire day!

I appreciate your time reading my message and hope that you take my thoughts and concerns into consideration.


Ms. Michelle Vail
8th Grade Science Teacher
Athletic Director
E. E. Waddell Language Academy

12 thoughts on “Charlotte teacher with COVID-19 shares concerns over re-opening schools

  1. I send my sincere sympathies to what you experienced healing from Covid-19. I am not a teacher but my son will be moving to Rosenberg, TX this month to start a new job working as a music educator at two high schools. To say I m worried is an understatement based on the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in Texas. I wholeheartedly agree with you that it would be foolish to allow schools to open their doors to all students unless there is a solid and well planned plan to allow teachers to teach and students to learn without the threat of infection. It will take more than a few weeks between now and August 17 to properly plan the start of the school year. I hope our city and state leaders will put more thought and care into the infrastructure and execution strategies needed to open schools safely.

  2. You are reading my mind. This is all going through my had. I am an art teacher at independent school. We were told that we are going in-person in September. I believe in student-center teaching and 85% of my time is one-on-one. This will not be possible. I am planing on staying away from students 6″. So I will be at my desk at all time. Student will have to submit the images of their work via our on-line platform and I will comment via on-line. I had a really good on-line curriculum and great response from students last quarter. We stead away from traditional art supplies and covered ares that we would never be able to do it in class. I was blown away by how creative, resourceful and thought provoking art I got from My students. When I go back in person I will be a babysitter at school and I will work second shift at home. I hope we had a choice to teach online or in-person.

    • I also an art teacher. I see everyone in the school. Elementary students don’t understand social distancing . I don’t understand how this is going to work.

      • It will not work. But it will be tried. And the virus will continue spreading and establishing itself and then begin dying out because we will achieve herd immunity. It is inevitable that most people will get this illness — period. I myself am high risk and do follow guidelines and social distancing etc, but it is gonna happen.

  3. Thank you Ms. Vail for sharing your experience with COVID-19 , and I wish you are in your way to recovery.
    Great questions and scenarios you presented for the Board members it’s always best to show the teacher point of view.

  4. I am not a fan of virtual learning. I miss my students. I miss the interaction and getting to know each one as individuals. That being said, I will be 60 in the next few months. I have health issues but am not sure if they will qualify me for distance learning. My district is offering students the chance to go in to school 2 days a week to limit their contact. However, teachers will be teaching 4 days a week so as an elementary school teacher I will be teaching about 25-30 students (many fewer than friends who teach middle and high school). If I go in to a school every day, I will not be able to visit my 87-year-old mother, my two-year-old grandson who has respiratory problems or the new grandchild due in a couple months. At what point is my health and life worth more than my job?

    On the other hand, my husband works for a nonprofit. He has been told not to expect to come into the office at least until October. In the meantime, they are re-configuring the office to help with social distancing. Who would be safer going into work — a teacher in a school of children who can’t control themselves during normal times, or a person who works in an office with a handful of adults and can choose to continue attending meetings by video?

    • As a teacher, the idea of walking back into a school building is daunting to say the least. I miss my students so much, but definitely have fears for their safety as well as my own. Online learning is not easy for the teachers or students, but if it saves lives, it is worth it.

  5. I pray for your recovery process. I am a teacher with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools also, I have the same fears/worries as you. I love my calling as an Educator, I trust my Heavenly Father, but the unknown scares me. My prayers are with you and your family. Be Blessed my beautiful soul🥰😍🤩.

  6. Thank you for your comments. As a School Board Trustee in Jersey City, New Jersey, we are currently evaluating what we might do for September. You raised some great points to be considered. I hope that you are feeling much better very soon.
    Gerald Lyons

  7. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I wish you rapid healing. I, too, worry about our children, but also about our teachers. There are those who may have compromising health issues, but it seems younger people are getting sick too. Our nation has a responsibility to protect each of these groups. The decisions will be difficult and the execution of the decisions will be even more difficult. My prayers go out to all. Chloe, a retired teacher

  8. I hope that you will be feeling better soon. I understand and share your concerns. I’m frustrated with the lack of knowledge we STILL have about this virus – and it worries me that there simply no fair way to begin school. I KNOW these children need the social interaction, but at what cost? I feel that until we can be provided with some consistent, factual information about the virus we put everyone at risk by opening schools.

  9. My heart goes out to teachers, students and parents facing these tough decisions. I recently retired after 35 years in the classroom. The nine weeks of distance learning was exhausting. I know it was hard on the students without the personal interaction with teachers, friends and other extracurricular activities. We face and deal with other diseases through out life times. I pray that true medical professionals will discover preventions and medications to cure those who contract this disease.

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