Grants Pass Area Teacher Speaks Out on Morale, Masks, ‘Equity’

By Teacher X

Editor’s note: The Eagle posed the following questions to a Grants Pass area teacher we are calling “Teacher X.” He or she is not sharing any information that isn’t public but hopes to give clarification and focus to current issues facing students and staff in the public schools.

Describe the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on teacher and student morale, performance and enrollment.

Many staff members felt forced to get vaccinated in September against their own desire. “Accommodations” for staff with religious and medical exceptions were decided on October 8th. Unvaccinated individuals were given two options: 1) wear a form fitted N95 mask or 2) wear a 4-ply mask and doing weekly testing. 

COVID destroyed our educational pace and pushed students back at least a year. Test scores are down at every level. Many second graders are reading at kindergarten levels.

Students already have a lot to think about and to get in trouble over. Now we are adding “masking protocol enforcement” to our list of disciplinable offenses. I personally hear close to 100 mask reminders a week. Some of these reminders are “Over your nose, please.” “Where is your mask?” and “Check your mask, please.”

Communication difficulties abound as teachers and students have to repeat themselves far more frequently due to fact that the masks make lip reading impossible AND they muffle the voice. Hindrances to education (from both teachers’ and students’ perspectives) also abound. Students with a variety of learning disabilities, ELL students, severely handicapped students and young students have an especially hard time connecting with and learning from their peers and district staff. 

At every grade level, behavior problems are presenting new challenges. Kids are ruder toward each other and are less inclined to listen to teachers or to sit still for a lesson. The mask hides the face, which gives a student anonymity, emboldening him or her to be defiant. They cannot see the teacher’s face, so they can’t feel the full weight of a verbal correction as they once could.

Students and teachers understand the foolishness of masks (for the most part), but we are told by JoCo Health that we have to follow protocols in order to avoid quarantining large swaths of students. This means that kids often break their own masks and are not diligent about how they wear them.

Children are resilient, but apathy is growing (among staff as well). It’s hard to cheer for schools when the future is dim and the present is muddy.

Describe “Sexuality Education” training and procedures in local public schools.

Administrators have already had training from an outside resource. Staff have had a basic-level training to prepare us for dealing with student name changes.

We are not supposed to discuss anything with parents if the student doesn’t want us to until the student grants us permission, or we have moved to the final step in the process, which is when the legal name is changed in the district system.

District 7 is not acting explicitly like an activist organization, but is opening the doors for individual students and staff to do so. How soon before activist staff members begin encouraging “self-expression”?

“Ally” stickers are visible on many classroom windows at the secondary schools. “We Welcome …” posters are in almost every school. “Safe Place” posters are beginning to pop up in even the elementary schools.

District 7 has four new pillars addressing this issue (see myeagle.us/D7-4pillars). 

LGBTQIAAP+ clubs are at both middle schools and at the high school. At least one staff member at each school oversees each club.

Describe the influence of critical race theory on local public schools.

See the District 7 website for more information on the “diversity” pillar.

BLM posters (teachers union approved) are displayed in some classrooms.

“Equity” has been the buzzword for at least the last two years.

The Josephine County school districts have a very low percentage of minority staff, so they are committed to hiring and keeping as many as possible.

Josephine County schools are embracing “empathy” as THE great virtue of our time. In doing so, they are telling kids through every public message that being themself (no matter what that means) is the highest calling. Staff, parents and peers are called to embrace students and their identities basically above all else. 

We are still called to curb disruptive behavior, but even the term “disruptive” has been altered to mean “distraction that makes classroom learning exceedingly difficult and/or endangers the offender and/or others in the classroom.” Many other behaviors that are disruptive according to the old definition (annoying sounds, speaking when not asked, extra movement, distracting a neighboring peer, etc.) are tolerated on purpose to help difficult students acclimate to the classroom. Sometimes this is successful for an offending student, but it always creates more problems for that student’s peers and his teacher.

Describe the impact of Rachel Damiano’s and Katie Medart’s terminations on teachers’ willingness to speak out publicly.

This is a good question. Most people with whom I’ve discussed Rachel’s and Katie’s story believe that District 7 made the wrong decision. Some are very supportive of them.

Teachers who are “probationary” (meaning they have taught in District for less than three years) can be fired for almost any reason. This is the only reason that Rachel and Katie were fired. This caused many of us who were probationary at the time to remain silent. I, and a growing number of others, are becoming less silent, however. Our union (with all its faults) is showing that they will stand with members during difficult times. Many of us are not fans of unions in general, but ours does appear to at least try to be centrist and unbiased when it comes to defending members’ rights.

All in all, many staff members are just keeping their heads down and doing their job until they can afford to leave.

We all love working with kids, but the pressure from the feds, the state and our own leaders is ever increasing.

Lastly, it appears that our leaders are not evil, but rather guided by empathy toward certain groups`. This makes them weak in their ability to fight off whatever comes down the pike from Salem or D.C. Our school leaders seem like they are genuinely trying to do a good job, but due to a lack of clarity and misguided allegiances, they are doing more harm than good.

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