OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Teachers with underlying health conditions are feeling the strain during this school year as districts are doing everything possible to keep learning in-person.
Oklahoma Education Association President Katherine Bishop says the pandemic has made education difficult for teachers with those conditions.
“I’ve talked with many educators that have underlying health issues, and they continually express that concern,” she said. “They know the best place for kids to learn is face to face and [they know] the risk that they’re putting themselves through each and every day.”
She also says there has been a shift in the public’s support since the pandemic began, even getting to the point where people are opposing education officials on health policy, and parents aren’t immune to its effects. Those teachers are often caught in the middle.
“Now there’s this tug and pull between parents and whether you’re for one thing or against another thing,” she said. “Last year we saw communities coming together…this year there’s not that comradery like we had last year and it’s disheartening.”
This comes as one Edmond school principal sent a letter out to parents on behalf of a teacher, requesting that students who opted out of masks put them on just for that class for the teacher’s safety.
That opposition could be seen from some of the responses to that letter. When the letter got posted in one parent group on Facebook, one mother responded that she would have her child wear the mask in that one class, saying “it’s just one class.” But another said they wouldn’t and that “you give them an inch, they take a mile.”
One additional parent told KFOR she would request her child move to a different class because “she wouldn’t want them being taught by someone who is afraid to even be around them.”
Even with this opposition, a representative for Edmond Public Schools tells KFOR that, so far, there haven’t been any students who refused to wear a mask in that teacher’s class. The letter that was sent out to parents was also done with that teacher’s permission.
Billy Samuel, a licensed therapist in mental health and substance abuse, says therapists across the state have seen this shift. He says it’s compounding with COVID burnout and impacting Oklahomans’ mental health, polarizing people and their opinions in the process.
“COVID exhaustion is such a pervasive issue right now affecting so many people, we’re afraid, we’re angry, we’re frustrated,” he said. “I’ve got to have one opinion or another opinion about this because there’s really no middle ground because I feel safer on either side.”
He says this divide is even creating a lack of empathy for the other side.
“That lack of empathy is essentially where we’re at now,” he said. “It’s easier for me to feed the fear and not accept your opinion and just collect a bunch of people that absolutely agree with my attitudes and the way I’m doing anything, and it just kinda creates this same loop.”