Putting On the Ritz

The original … or close enough to it.

Forget Fred Astaire, imagine if you will, (oh, my, Grumpy Old Teacher–GOT–is mixing metaphors or at least pop culture references–apologies to Rod Serling) the face of Miguel Cardona, our newest, brightest, and shiniest U.S. Secretary of Education, or something like that on the face of the premier danseuse (that means the guy in front.) Testing must go on. So in school after school after school across the land, it’s time to put on the Ritz.

GOT googled the meaning of that phrase. It means to dress fashionably. Yes, that covers it. Time for testing and we are going to dress up poorly written, badly constructed, devoid of sound pedagogy tests in fancy clothes. We’re “putting on the Ritz!”

Time to threaten 8-year-old children that we will hold them back a year if they don’t score high enough on their reading test. We’re putting on the Ritz.

Time to threaten teachers with VAM scores that are more meaningless than ever because children have passed from teacher to teacher like a virus (hmm) moving through a classroom and multiple teachers have taught one student throughout the year. We’re putting on the Ritz.

Time to worry children about EOC scores and graduation requirements. Time to tell middle schools students they won’t pass their grade unless they do well on tests (a lie, of course.) Time to … put on the Ritz.

We could have avoided this. But the last time anyone listened to an actual teacher, GOT was in first grade, eyes wide opened, as the teacher paddled a child (the O is not an exaggeration, teachers could do this back then) for not following her instructions in using the classroom bathroom. The rest of us listened and got the lesson.

If anything, 2021 testing is more meaningless than if we had found a way in 2020, a year when children spent most of it learning under normal conditions in their schools in their classrooms in the presence of a real teacher.

But it’s time to put on the Ritz. Time to pay clothiers great sums of money to rent the fancy clothes because, yeah, you have to feel sorry for the guy who convinced you that you needed fancy dress (as the Brits would say) for the annual prom. He put a lot of money into tuxes and evening gowns, so put on the Ritz or he might not be around next year.

If you understand the metaphor, you would agree with GOT that the bankruptcy of the clothiers would be a good thing.

Because there’s another way to look at putting on the Ritz–we’re dressing up a monster.

Ridikulus. Oh wait, GOT is mixing metaphors again. But the boggart of testing is real, playing on our deepest, darkest fears. White tie and tails, anyone?

The Biggest Loser

The raised dial means no more squinting at the floor.

Florida Politics, a media platform,* has a weekly feature whereby it names the biggest winners and losers of the week in Florida politics. This week, it named Richard Corcoran, Commissioner of Education and erstwhile-House Speaker who was known for always getting his way (is that code language for a bully?), as the week’s biggest loser for issuing a memo to school superintendents to suggest (go back and read the previous parentheses) that mandatory mask policies serve no purpose and should disappear when the next school year begins.

Florida Politics:

The biggest loser: Richard Corcoran. COVID-19 cases are increasing in Florida (and many other places). The Florida Department of Health Tuesday reported 9,068 additional virus cases.

That’s the highest one-day increase since Feb. 5.

That makes the pronouncement by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran all the more bizarre.

In a memo to public school district superintendents, Corcoran recommended they drop the mandatory mask requirements for the 2021-22 academic year.


Corcoran’s memo said, “they serve no remaining good at this point in our schools.”

It’s long been obvious to Florida educators that politicians like Richard Corcoran are ignorant about public schools, Florida’s school districts, and what actually goes on inside the walls. They never ask. They are arrogant in their dictates and infuriating in their dismissal of experts and practitioners in the art of learning.

Florida Politics continues with a takedown:

Seriously? How does anyone know at this early date what things will look like in August?

Hey, while we wait, let’s ask the opinion of people who actually studied this stuff in college. They have wide agreement that masks make a big difference in safety. John V. Williams, a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, answered it this way.

“There isn’t really a lot of evidence for six feet versus three feet, and the masks are much more important than the distance,” he told the New York Times. “Three feet would allow much more capacity in schools.”

To give Corcoran his due, the good commish won the day with his battle to reopen schools for in-person learning. Fears of an apocalyptic virus rampage through classrooms never happened.

But what’s the benefit of telling schools now they shouldn’t require masks when they return?

That seems like a foolish move from someone high on legislative adrenaline.

Or someone jealous of a governor, a job Corcoran wanted until it was obvious that no one really liked him and his chances of winning the primary were about those of the proverbial snowball in Hades, a governor who is riding high as most-favored for the GOP presidential 2024 nomination as long as you-know-who decides not to run, a governor much beloved by the give-me-Covid-or-give-me-death crowd, but don’t ever make me wear a mask. The governor obliged.

Maybe if the governor succeeds, Corcoran will be heading to the city on the Potomac to usher in a new Devosian assault on education.

If that happens, public schools will become the biggest losers.


*Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

What’s In a Name? Part 2

Fourth in a series of posts examining the controversy in Jacksonville, Florida over the renaming of six schools that bear the names of Confederate figures, one the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis Middle School, the other five Confederate generals (the history of the confederacy is one of war, a failed war of succession; therefore, military persons and events dominate the history of the period): Robert E. Lee High School, J.E.B. Stuart Middle School, Kirby-Smith Middle School, Joseph Finnegan Elementary School, and Stonewall Jackson Elementary Schoool.

Two of these schools were built in the 1920s, when the last of the soldiers who fought in the war were dying off and when many monuments were erected to memorialize the Lost Cause, and the 1950s/early 1960s in the aftermath of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision that schools must desegregate.

(First part, What’s In a Name; second part, The Rose; third part, Take Down That Flag!)

As Duval County (Jacksonville, FL) refights the Civil War in the process of renaming the schools, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) sees the most prominent voices being these: white alumni, decrying ‘cancel culture’ and ‘erasing history,’ whose real objection seems to be the threat they perceive to their privilege that they enjoy from the racism baked into America’s societal structures; and students, decrying the very same things.

What’s in a Name? Do we indulge the feelings of old alumni, sad and angry that their school might change its name, or those of the current students, 70% of whom are black and 82% of whom are non-white, who feel the impact of walking into a school every day named for a man who fought to maintain slavery?

Judge halts removal of Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Va. - Los Angeles  Times
Richmond begins to dismantle its statues; if they can do it, why not Jacksonville?

If you think the students don’t care, you didn’t see their posts on social media of video they took during the community meetings of people who showed up to say the most offensive and ridiculous things. They were there. They care.

In fact, the students of Robert E. Lee High School have started a petition to bring the suspended teacher back. If you care to support them, you can add your name.

As children, we used to sing this song: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

We were never more wrong. Names are powerful and important. Names carry the power to inflict long-lasting psychological damage. It’s time for a change, not only in the names, but in the attitudes of those who continue the narrative of white supremacy.

This will be hard for Jacksonville, a city whose mayor ordered the removal of all confederate statues, monuments, and markers in the immediate aftermath of the protests over the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In predawn hours, cranes showed up and removed the bronze statue of a Confederate soldier standing on top of a 50 foot granite column.

The mayor then marched with black NFL players from the city’s team. Good optics. But nothing has changed since then. The column stands like a finger lifted to the sky without purpose. Other historical plaques and monuments remain in place. Bad optics.

Black members of the city council filed legislation to change the name of the central park in downtown from Hemming, the man who donated the Confederate memorial, to James Weldon Johnson, the black man whose many accomplishments include writing the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” with his brother.

The name change went through. May that past be prologue and Jacksonville, Florida find its way to better names for its children’s schools.

Take That Flag Down!

In the third part of a series, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) reflects on the controversy in his city over renaming schools that bear the names of Confederate generals plus the president: Jefferson Davis Middle School, JEB Stuart Middle School, Kirby-Smith Middle School, Joseph Finnegan Elementary, Stonewall Jackson Elementary, and the big fish in the group, Robert E. Lee High School.

Part One, What’s in a Name? and Part Two, The Rose.

For the latest updates, you need to follow the city’s outstanding education reporter, Emily Bloch, of the Times-Union, who is following the unfolding events and keeping us informed.

flag of the Confederate States of America | Facts, Origin, Battle Flag, &  Images | Britannica
This one? Or …
Amazon.com : Hamowtux 【FBA in Stock】 Black Lives Matter Flag BLM Flag with  Brass Grommets, 3'x5' Garden Flag Banner Wall Flag for Indoor Outdoor  Democrats I Can't Breathe George Floyd BLM Justice
this one?

At the epicenter of the controversy is a Lee teacher who was removed from her classroom this week pending the results of an internal investigation by our Professional Standards department. GOT refrains from opining on the reasons for the removal and speculating on the outcome of the investigation. He does not work at that school nor does he know anyone who works there.

The teacher refused to take down a BLM flag that she had hung above her hallway door despite the fact that the school district had clarified its expectations in mid-December about appearing to endorse social justice movements using its voice.

That is a matter of interpretation. Does everything a teacher posts in the classroom or in the hall imply that it is an official expression of district policy?

There is a history here. The teacher founded the Evac Movement, which started as a class in leadership that began talking after having a lesson about Plato’s cave and people watching the shadows on the wall not realizing the shadows came from the reality behind them. As the young black men talked, they realized that they had shared experiences, that their lives were much the same, and they formed a bond and a determination to demand better from a society that discounted their lives.

I AM NOT A GANG MEMBER. The Evac movement challenges our assumptions and what we think when we view a young black man. Those passing through the high school and participating in the movement have gone on to win admission to the most prestigious colleges, Harvard among them.

The Evac movement has won national and international awards. President Barrack Obama invited them to the White House. They have traveled to other countries and participated in conferences.

And yet, Jacksonville, in particular its school system, has always been uncomfortable with it.

The Bold New City of the South. Always, always, a better phrase describes it: A Tale of Two Cities. (One white, one black.)

If you don’t believe that, you will have a hard time understanding why impoverished, black neighborhoods still lack city water and sewer services 55 years after they were promised they would receive it. Only now, in 2021, is city leadership moving to fulfill the failed promises from the 1960’s consolidation of county and city governments.

The Evac movement represents student voice, what the school system always says is important until students use it in ways that the system does not like. The student voice is clear: RENAME OUR SCHOOL! (GOT emphasis.)

Things became so heated that the students planned a walkout and a demonstration until the school’s administration got wind of it and quashed it. This is March, not February, when students were allowed to stage walk-outs to call out the district for glossing over Black History month in favor of an emphasis on mental health.

The district listened then; it’s not listening now.

Part Four: What’s In a Name? Part 2

The Rose

Part Two of a series; read Part One (What’s in a Name?)

A river, a razor, a hunger, or a flower, or maybe all at the same time?

Bette Midler sang about a rose and what it might be: river, razor, hunger, or flower? As Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) continues to ponder the school renaming controversy in Jacksonville, Florida, the song comes to mind as a companion to the famous Shakespeare quote, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Indeed, what’s in a name? In Jacksonville, apparently a lot and that smell isn’t something sweet.

Several years ago, the city had a Nathan Bedford Forrest High School. That’s right, the founder of the KKK, the general who orchestrated the Fort Pillow Massacre, and an erstwhile slave trader, actually had a high school named for him. Originally, it was supposed to be Valhalla High School (the students voted for this name,) but then the powers-that-be of Jacksonville got involved, the Daughters of the Confederacy among them, and the school board disregarded the students and went with the Forrest name.

Finally, in 2013, after going through the name-change process, the Duval County School Board approved a name change and Forrest High School became Westside High School.

In a foreshadowing of today’s controversy, the same issues are in play. Alumni (white) whined about history and the need to honor their heritage; others pressed for a reckoning of the past and the need for a school that did not have a name that embodied domestic terrorism of black people.

Of the six schools up for renaming (GOT is setting aside for now the other three schools whose names are problematical for other reasons,) it is Robert E. Lee High School that is attracting the most controversy, the most push-back–but that is far too mild an adjective to describe what is happening as at least one white person showed up at the community meetings to proclaim that we were better off when black people were slaves–yes, that really happened–GOT is not linking the original footage as it is too offensive.

Why Robert E. Lee? Is it that Lee is the only high school on the agenda for renaming? Or do we need to think about the mythologized Lee that was formed as Fitzhugh Lee, his nephew and a Confederate officer, and Jubal Early, a Confederate general, promulgated the theory of the Lost Cause as a way to understand the Civil War, the South’s loss, and the excusing of Robert E. Lee from culpability of losing the war.

Yes, that dirty Longstreet, who procrastinated from sending thousands of men into a suicide mission in Gettysburg and later took a federal job, it was his fault. Don’t blame the sovereign saint of the South, Robert E. Lee. The Lost Cause.

To understand the importance of Robert E. Lee to the South, you need to read these words of Edward Porter Alexander, who was an officer who served under Lee’s command, who recalled these words spoken to Lee at the end, “There is no country [Confederacy or South]. There has been no country, General, for a year or more. YOU [GOT emphasis] are the country to these men … If you demand the sacrifice, there are still left thousands of us who will die for you … if you so announce, no man, or government, or people will gainsay your decision.”

Another memoir by a Confederate general recalled Lee’s agonized decision to surrender and the morning when, as he dithered over whether he had the authority to surrender or needed approval from the Jefferson Davis, an old man told him, “You, Sir, are the South! Make your decision. We have lost. Let these men go home to plow their fields and resume their lives.” [Editorial note: GOT is still searching through his library for the citation.]

The controversy over renaming Forrest High School was only a warm-up for the mythologized figure who was built up into the embodiment of the ideal South of the past.

For everyone who believes in their Southern heritage as their right and their future, the renaming of Robert E. Lee High School is their Gettysburg. This time, they intend to win.

Part Three: Take Down That Flag!

Part Four: What’s In a Name? Part 2

What’s in a Name?

That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, or so the Bard said as he put these words into the mouth of Romeo.

21st century update: That which we call a turd by any other name would stink like spoiled meat.

In Jacksonville, Florida, we are refighting the Civil War, sometimes known as the War Between the States, and by some on one side of the argument, the War of Northern Aggression Against the Southern States.

As a famous Miami Herald Columnist would say, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is not making that up.

At issue is the renaming of six schools whose monikers match that of five Southern Generals for the Confederate Army, Robert E. Lee (1928), J.E.B. Stuart (circa 1965, the building began as Nathan Forrest High School), Kirby-Smith (1923), Joseph Finnegan (Confederate general who won the Battle of Olustee, opened 1968), and Stonewall Jackson (Google, you failed me, but the location makes GOT suspect the 1960s), as well as ol’ Jeff Davis himself, the president of the Confederacy (circa 1961).

Try Confederate Rose, a pass-along heirloom | Mississippi State University  Extension Service
That’s not a real rose! But it’s a Confederate Rose.

The process kicked off last summer after the Black Lives Matters protests across the nation that caused many to consider the ways that racism and white supremacy are part of the background of the United States.

The local school board passed a resolution to look into the possibility of renaming schools whose names are offensive to a large segment of the city’s population, including its students of whom African-Americans form a majority.

Reaction was swift and predictable as people complained about cancel-culture, erasing history, and violating their sense of their heritage as Southerners. (Read that last bit as white Southerners. You will never hear black Southerners defending the antebellum years of slavery, the postbellum years of segregation and Jim Crow, and the post-Civil Rights era–1960s–as a heritage that must be honored and protected.)

Of the six schools that are in the renaming process, that might end up with no name change, the most controversial is Robert E. Lee High School.

The first thing to notice is that these schools have two eras of construction and naming: the 1920s, the time of the red scare and the re-emergence of the KKK, and the 1960s, the time of resistance to Brown vs. Board of Education decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954.

These schools were named not so much to remember great men or to preserve a heritage. They were shots fired in a war as black people pressed for full rights and inclusion in American society.

The names went onto white-only schools as they were built and opened in the era of segregation that is part of the formative history of a city that proclaims itself ‘The Bold New City of the South.’

Now, in the time of Black Lives Matter, this history matters because of the resistance of many white people to dealing with the past, a past they say they remember with pride, but their resistance is more related to their fear of the future, a future when a diverse society is the norm and no one race is the majority.

What’s in a name? A rose would still smell as sweet and alumni would not have their high school memories diminished or dishonored if the name changed. You can’t change history, they say, and they are right. A name change would not change their memories.

Clearly, this battle is not about that.

Part Two: The Rose

Part Three: Take Down That Flag!

Part Four: What’s In a Name? Part 2

Progress Monitoring … But Whose Progress Are We Monitoring?

What few people ever want to talk about is how 20 plus years of ed reform has taken the focus off the purpose of education. It’s easy to see why; when a person tries to convince parents and the public that public education, a/k/a the traditional school system of neighborhood schools managed by an elected school board, is the best option, that person doesn’t want to admit that those schools (under the pressure of test-and-punish laws that began in 2001 with No Child Left Behind) are focused on the needs of adults, not the children who show up to learn.

We do a lot of progress monitoring in schools, which does not mean that teachers are carefully gauging how well their students are doing, but does mean that we do a lot of ill-timed, poorly written, state-test-guessing-as-to-what-May’s-questions-will-look-like assessment of children.

It’s like school improvement plans. Have you ever looked at one? In Florida, the state-mandated exercise that takes place every year asks each school to document how they will raise test scores. They pretend it’s about making schools better, but they never ask and demand action-steps for anything that is not going to be tested in the spring.

In previous times, we would be ashamed of ourselves. We would not only promise to do better, but stop the nonsense.

In our time, we cite bogus research and I-appointed-myself-an-expert-credentialed-because-it-pays-well personalities to justify the continued waste of instructional time.

Will the real educator, scratch that, teacher, scratch that, person who will tell the truth about testing please stand up?! (Ignore that crowd protesting from the sidelines who have been doing so forever.)

In our time, when reform of schools is driven by the likes of a Frank William Abagnale, Jr. who took an applique from a model airplane kit, affixed it to a plastic ID card, and then talked himself into being a pilot for a major airline. He did the same, despite his teenage looks, for a hospital in Georgia. His saving grace is that he never dared to make an actual decision or take control of anything for fear of being discovered as a phony.

He never flew a plane. He never prescribed a course of treatment. From a position of authority, he asked those underneath him for recommendations and endorsed what they said. It’s how he got away with his con for a very long time.

If only the ed reformers of the last 25 years had the same self-awareness …

But they don’t. It’s all about them and their heroic rescue of … people who don’t want rescuing but some respect and a lot of resources that have been denied them, not because they don’t merit it, but because … reasons. Reasons like we [politicians and our campaign donors] have an agenda and we need you to look bad to achieve it. Reasons like we [campaign donors and edupreneurs] want to skim taxpayer dollars into our bank accounts as profits. Reasons like those chronicled by Mark Twain in his novel, The Gilded Age.

Talk to school board members, superintendents, and high-ups and they will excuse their single-minded obsession with test scores that translate into school and then district grades, as phony as those are, as the game they must play.

The hard truth is that they are focused on the needs of the institution, the school district, which is that of survival. What children need is not forgotten, but becomes a genuflection to the priest as they walk into the cathedral of learning.

If you know of anyone who can sit out a year of worrying and waiting about the results of a one-time event without constantly poking a finger into the process of growth, much as a newbie gardener keeps digging up the seed to see if it has sprouted yet, a habit that guarantees failure, please let Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) know.

High-Ups, Higher-Ups, and High Muckety-Ups, not to speak of the Dais-Squatters who appear on a stage 48 hours after the obligatory public meeting notices go up, need something … anything … to show they are doing … something.

Do something … anything! Ah, yes, a Progress Monitoring Assessment is the ticket, just the thing to tell us if these young wizards really know how to stop a troll from killing someone.

The scandal of our time is not the efforts from the misguided, the opportunistic, or the cheerfully I’m Evil crowd to break into the piggy bank of school taxes and glom onto the spilling coins like children diving into the booty of a just-broken pinata; the scandal of our time is the number of persons who know better and should fight for children, but instead pretend that increasing test scores substitute for true learning.

The problem with those who run public school districts under the policies and laws of the Jeb Bush era is that they are focused on the needs of adults, the need for a better score, the need for a better grade, the need for a not-untruthful item on their resume when they go hunting for the next job.

That is why we have progress monitoring and that is why we waste hours upon hours and days upon days of worthless testing.

Progress Monitoring Assessment is worthless when it takes place before children are ready, before teachers can squeeze the packed curriculum into the few hours that they have, before it can have any meaning except this: IF you leave teachers alone to actually do the teaching you want, then you might find the results you are looking for.

Alas, no. It is not meant to be. That is why GOT’s district will not let him see the actual questions from a progress monitoring that is measuring a full year of learning (180 days) after less than two-third’s of that time (120 days.) Yes, he got out his calendar and counted–old math teacher habit.

It’s a farce. The thing about being an actor in a farce is that you play for laughs from the audience. But in this case, the laughs are spittle in your face, not an appreciation of your wit.

And that is the worst thing about this nonsense. We’re so focused on our adult needs and disputes we forget how this tramples on children.

Adequate Yearly Progress

Adequate Yearly Progress: A Novel: Elden, Roxanna: 9781982135027:  Amazon.com: Books
AYP: It used to be a ‘safe harbor.’

Roxanna Elden has penned a hilarious satire of a year in the life of a <insert your favorite word for a school targeted for state intervention, closure, or worse> school. In Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) district, the names have varied over the years: turn-around, SIG (for school improvement grants back when those were a thing,) Quality Education for All, challenging, get-out-and-don’t-come-back-if-your-test-scores-aren’t-high-enough … okay, GOT made that last one up but it fits not only the ever-changing yet never-changing programs with one and only one focus on test scores … it fits into the theme of the book: one year in the life of teachers who work in a school targeted for improvement, which means <cough, cough> privatization.

The genius of the author lies in her accurate portrayal of schools under the hard pressure created by unrealistic demands of ed reform and the very realistic environment of their location. While it seems ridiculous, this is daily life to a veteran educator recognizing far too many of the reform ideas that penetrate the school and woe to anyone who does not comply. Ms. Elden creates sympathetic characters who face life struggles as teachers trying to have a human existence while satisfying the demand to be a superhero teacher.

Did GOT say teacher? Ms. Elden is also brilliant at portraying three administrators: the principal, who is old-school, who works to keep district foolishness at bay while shielding his teachers (Shut your door and teach; I’ll handle the rest,) who finds himself targeted by a superintendent eager to push his reputation forward by finding victims to pillory … hmm, not saying anything more although a few faces are flitting across GOT’s mind … the loyal admin who tries hard to support her school although she is often left hanging by last-minute HQ emails and no one appreciates the nuance … the out-for-myself figure whom one should ever turn a back on.

It starts with the edict that every teacher will write the Curriculum Standard of the Day on their whiteboard. As the year progresses, the Sample Question of the Day is added as well as the Research-Based Best Practice, wherever will a teacher find all the whiteboard acreage needed and still have room to actually demonstrate what to do for students?

At the end of the year (no spoiler alerts, GOT is giving nothing away,) we see some teachers fired, some bailing out, some moving on to district offices to torment those left behind, some surviving.

In a very sad way, this book sums up our pandemic year in which no good deed will go unpunished and standardized testing must go on because, dammit, you can’t let a pandemic stop the punishing.

Florida, looking at you.

One Year Ago

One year ago, Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) school district went home for Spring Break. We never returned. Like all other districts, we made a hurried change over a weekend to switch to online learning. Unlike many school districts, GOT’s district opened their campuses in August under the order and threats of Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis, who only reluctantly agreed to closure orders when forced by the crisis to do so, and Florida’s Education Commissioner, Richard Corcoran.

It’s been quite a year–the last 12 months. Waves of viral peaks in July, October, and post-Christmas followed by crescendos of deaths. Quarantine-disrupted learning being the fall norm; then having little impact in winter. Florida educators denied vaccination by their governor, who only recently agreed to add them to those eligible for a shot and then only at federally-run vaccination sites.

With retail pharmacies and FEMA deciding to follow federal guidelines, not state orders, teachers of any age may now receive vaccination from them. State-run sites still turn teachers away. Still, hope arises.

GOT took a look back at what he wrote a year ago to trace the journey.

March 6: Coronavirus. What is striking in the post is how we were becoming aware of the health crisis, but we knew almost nothing about it. Therefore, rumors swept the hallways the final week before break. GOT remembers conversations over the ensuing break about whether he would go back or seek to take leave until the end of the year. We simply didn’t know the actual risk and feared the worst.

March 13: To Teach or Not to Teach. One week later, that conversation was loud and in public. GOT published this post before the day brought an announcement from the Commissioner that districts should extend Spring Break to two weeks. Soon thereafter, the next week brought the closure order and the district spending 48 hours preparing for the switch to online teaching and giving teachers one day of professional development. The following Monday, teachers would go live with their students.

March 19: A Strict Accounting. Probably not GOT’s most popular post, but he counted up the days of work and found that teachers would be paid for five days that they did not have to work. He was grateful. It was a confusing time and everyone, including district management, was trying to find a way through.

GOT continued with posts about online teaching and what he and other teachers were learning through trial-and-error. Mixed in with those were posts about Florida Virtual School and the weakness of the virtual learning model. Those proved controversial among certain sets of social media groups.

Quick question: What does blogging and Twitter have in common? Answer: Neither is for the faint of heart.

April 16: Till Covid-19 Takes Your T-Bird Away. It didn’t take long for people to tire of the shutdown. Soon, politicians like Florida’s governor to whom we gave a new nickname, Ron DeathSantis, were pushing for schools to open. This was an early piece about the difficulties of doing so.

April 17: Life in These Viral United States. A plea for people to realize that what one person does affects us all.

April 18: The Coronabushaccountability Virus. The hope was that the cancellation of 2020 tests would cause everyone to realize that the tests are not needed. It didn’t take long for Florida to disabuse us of that fantasy. It’s a full-on press for 2021.

April 19: Jaw-Dropper. Florida admits that its testing program steals instructional time.

April 29: Three Days Grace. Did we actually consider adding three days to the school year in June to complete the required hours of school? Even when the likelihood of children flipping on their computers was low? Yes, we did. Fortunately, after some game-playing, Florida’s Commissioner of Education came to his senses and granted waivers.

May 19: Address to the Class of 2020. A wrap-up to the year and the sadness of graduating seniors about the normal rites of high school passage that they missed. At least they experienced most of their senior year on campus. The Class of 2021 has mostly learned online and have missed the entire senior year of traditional top-dog privileges and activities. At least, we are arranging a prom (under safety protocols).

As vaccination programs go into high gear under increased manufacturing boosting supply, we are anticipating the beginning of the end. It’s been a difficult year. As GOT closes out this reminiscence, the most telling lesson for him is the one many choose to ignore: we are only as safe as we protect one another. Our schools, our neighborhoods, our towns, our nation are not solitary landscapes upon which we can play out our lives with no effect on others. We live life in connection with others. If we would remember that, we would live healthier and with much less argument over rights.

Open a Window

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) has been writing about classroom ventilation for a few weeks now: Update: Dispatch from the Covid Trenches (February 12, 2021), Veni, Vidi, Vici (February 19, 2021), and C’est La Vie (February 20, 2021) complete with pictures.

Not surprisingly, for those who can do so, opening a window will improve ventilation in the sense of mixing outdoor air with the indoor air. Perhaps surprisingly for those who don’t spend their time in schools, many teachers are unable to open their windows, their classrooms don’t have windows, or they are forbidden to open windows because of security concerns.

GOT’s window. There’s another one in the back of the room.

Those open windows improved ventilation in GOT’s classroom such that the CO2 readings dropped by more than half after students had been in the room for three hours. By students, GOT means a full classroom of 30. There’s no physical distancing going on in the classrooms at his school.

Many other teachers are not so lucky. After the CDC added ventilation advice to their Covid guidelines, social media erupted with lots of comments.

The comments were negative, mainly falling along the lines of teachers whose rooms had no windows, the windows were wired, screwed, painted shut or boarded over, the openings were so narrow that students could not jump through them if they were so inclined, etc.

While GOT is critical of the CDC for its constantly-changing guidelines, which, despite their protests, seem to change to meet the political desires of the White House, both current and previous administrations, he doesn’t join those sneering at the advice.

Open a window if you can. It helps. What also helps is being able to keep the HVAC fan on, which necessitates that the adult in the room has access to the controls and can actually change the settings. That’s not always possible because the Internet of All Things has meant that school systems can control the room’s atmosphere from far away, even delegating the job to a third party contractor thousands of miles away.

And now we’re getting to it. Why criticize the CDC for issuing common sense advice? What was also included in that advice was this:

  • Turn off any demand-controlled ventilation (DCV) controls that reduce air supply based on occupancy or temperature during occupied hours. In homes and buildings where the HVAC fan operation can be controlled at the thermostat, set the fan to the “on” position instead of “auto,” which will operate the fan continuously, even when heating or air-conditioning is not required.
  • Open outdoor air dampers beyond minimum settings to reduce or eliminate HVAC air recirculation. In mild weather, this will not affect thermal comfort or humidity. However, this may be difficult to do in cold, hot, or humid weather.
  • Improve central air filtration:
    • Increase air filtration external icon to as high as possible without significantly reducing design airflow.
    • Inspect filter housing and racks to ensure appropriate filter fit and check for ways to minimize filter bypass.
    • Check filters to ensure they are within their service life and appropriately installed.
  • Ensure restroom exhaust fans are functional and operating at full capacity when the building is occupied.
  • Inspect and maintain local exhaust ventilation in areas such as kitchens, cooking areas, etc. Operate these systems any time these spaces are occupied. Consider operating these systems, even when the specific space is not occupied, to increase overall ventilation within the occupied building.
  • Consider portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan/filtration systems to help enhance air cleaning (especially in higher risk areas such as a nurse’s office or areas frequently inhabited by persons with higher likelihood of COVID-19 and/or increased risk of getting COVID-19).
  • Generate clean-to-less-clean air movement by re-evaluating the positioning of supply and exhaust air diffusers and/or dampers (especially in higher risk areas).
  • Consider using ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) as a supplement to help inactivate SARS-CoV-2, especially if options for increasing room ventilation are limited. Upper-room UVGI systemspdf icon can be used to provide air cleaning within occupied spaces, and in-duct UVGI systems can help enhance air cleaning inside central ventilation systems.

The CDC advice was less telling teachers to open a window than it was telling DISTRICTS TO DO THEIR JOB!

Sorry for the shouting, but GOT needs to cut through the noise surrounding this issue.

Why aren’t school districts sending their maintenance staffs into the classrooms (when they are occupied) to take readings to identify the rooms in need of immediate mitigation measures with the ventilation?

Why aren’t school districts giving control of the thermostat back to the people who are in the room?

Why aren’t school districts using their CARES act money, and there is more coming as the latest relief bill moves through Congress, to purchase portable HEPA-filtering appliances for classrooms? Also, appliances that provide ultraviolet gemicidal irradiation?

Why are school districts failing to be proactive?

That’s where our attention needs to be. Let’s hold our school districts, school boards, superintendents, chiefs of schools, and all other high leaders accountable to make our schools safe.