School staff, students bear risk of school reopenings amid ongoing pandemic

In communities with in-person schooling, teachers say they're choosing between their safety and their careers, and students wonder if they’ll bring COVID-19 home or get sick themselves.
9:46 | 08/11/20

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Transcript for School staff, students bear risk of school reopenings amid ongoing pandemic
It's these crowded hallways that Hannah waters feared as she headed back to her Georgia school last week. The outside looks like a normal day like we're going about it and trying to stay as safe as possible. But when you really go on the inside, that's why I took the photo, because people don't know what it looks like from the Just two days into the school year, the sophomore honor student took out her phone and began to film the crowds. You get an insight to what it looks like from the students and teachers' view how dangerous it is to be in there and how easily it is to contract things in there. Her video going viral, thousands sharing her post, sparking a nationwide conversation on whether schools should open as coronavirus cases continue to rise across the country. I've had a lot of people contact me, friends that I haven't talked to in a while text me and say, thank you for doing this. And there's been some people taking screen shots and saying stuff like, we're going to jump every girl named Hannah in the 10th grade, or someone who lives in my neighborhood saying, oh, I know where she lives. By every definition, those are are threats. Yeah. But Hannah's video turned out to be a warning. Over the weekend the superintendent sent a letter to parents. Nine students and faculty tested positive for covid. The school is switching to digital learning for at least two days to be cleaned. What surprised you the most during this process and what's disappointed you the most? I was very upset with parents and some teachers were upset that I did this because I'm just trying to keep your kids safe. Trying to keep even you safe because they come back to you after school. The global pandemic rages on. The U.S. Now surpassing 5 million total cases. The number of deaths increasing in multiple states. But teachers and students across the country are already returning to school. Grappling with the life and death risk going back with We've been reckless with bars and beaches and restaurants and we simply cannot be Rex tillersonless with our schools. This is not a petri dish. The American academy of pediatrics finding over 80,000 children have tested positive since the pandemic started. Nearly 100,000 of those in the last two weeks of July. And yet school districts across the country have pushed for in-person learning, opening a new front line in the fight against covid. Good news, all schools can reopen. In New York City, the biggest public school system in the country, schools will move forward with in-person learning and follow public health recommendations, including mandatory face coverings for all. Dr. Anthony Fauci weighing in today with ABC's David Muir. Do you feel comfortable with much of the country sending children back to school? It's really a mixed bag in some respects, David, because we live in a pretty large country that have differences in different parts of the country. I think as a default position, we should try to the best of our ability to get the children back to school. Having said that, as a default principle which we should try to do, there is a however there. But the however is that we've always got to make our primary consideration the health, the safety and the welfare of the children and of the teachers. It's this delicate balance that's proven so challenging. School started last wreak in Georgia. Cherokee county in suburban, Atlanta. More than 250 students and staff were asked to quarantine after at least 11 students and two staff members tested positive. Tiffini Robbins is a middle school teacher in that same So, it's Monday morning and I'm getting ready to start my second week of school with students. Robbins' school opted for in-class learning, forcing her to make a difficult choice. It took a lot of soul searching, but I decided that, you know, I love teaching. I love what I do. And if this is the only way I can do it in this county at this point in my life, then I have to go back into the classroom. It was her choice, but not an easy one. I am feeling kind of conflicted. It was wonderful to be in the classroom, but I'm worried. I'm worried for them, worried for my personal children. Worried for my students. I personally did make sure my will was there and updated. The fact that she had to draft a will and file for life insurance obviously it worries me. 50 miles south in gwinnett county, Georgia, reality isn't much different. The majority of residents in this part of the state are black and Latino. In these minority populations, there have been health disparities that already existed before this pandemic happened. And the pandemic just shone a really big spotlight on those economic and racial disparities that we see in health care. Georgia state representative Emory university lecturer jazz minute Clark is also a microbiologist. She knows the science and opted for virtual learning this fall. I signed up my daughter for digital learning. I fear for my daughter's safety. I fear for everyone's safety. I am hearing the stories of people who just wish that we as a community would do the right thing collectively so that we can stop the spread of this virus. But representative Clark says her daughter isn't happy about their tough decision. Jada loves to be around her friends, around her peers, so choosing virtual meant that I was taking that from her. But as a scientist and just understanding viral transmission, and also as a person who represents this area and represents those teachers and those school employees and those bus drivers, I really had to look at the bigger picture. In-person learning has been a contentious issue across the country. In Wisconsin, parents urging a return to classrooms. But last week more than 1,000 teachers called on Michigan's governor Gretchen Whitmer to keep schools closed, a sentiment being echoed in school districts across the country, including Oklahoma. A lifelong educator, Nancy Shively, never predicted her career would end this way. Maybe some day I'll get to go back. I always loved teaching, I love working with kids, even the ornery ones. I don't see how they're going to avoid outbreaks. As Tulsa schools resume in-person learning this week, Shively thought it was too dangerous, so she's resigning. I've got underlying health conditions. I'm over 60. None of that would bode well where I could get coronavirus. But she's not stopping there. Shively is so outraged she's penned an op-ed in usa today, blasting the president helped vote into office. One of the worst mistakes in my life. When the pandemic hit, I'm watching this and watching him abdicate his responsibilities and I'm like, I cannot be part of this Republican party any more. People are dying. I think what we're doing is we're conducting this big experiment with schools reopening and the people are going to pay the price are the teachers and children. In states with high infection rates, many districts have had to readjust their plans. We'll do a post reflection, but at the end of the unit. Arizona high school chemistry teacher Katherine driving hawk is back in school, but without her students. It's sad. I feel like I'm talking to myself the whole time. I miss the presence of having students in my classroom and having my social interaction with them. On the next page -- For the ten-year veteran, this has been one of the big east coast challenges biggest challenges of her career. As a chemistry teacher, there are still barriers. As a chemistry teacher there is a fine line. The way I teach is very interactive. I like kids being in groups, I like them doing lab work. And having them in the classroom would certainly make that easier, but, you know, that would require them not being 6 feet apart. We had to wear masks. That could also pose a difficulty in hearing each other. I could just see that being very difficult to manage. All at the same time of trying to teach, so I think what we're doing right now is the best we can do under the circumstances. Back in Georgia, high school sophomore Hannah waters doesn't regret sharing the videos of those crowded hallways. She was first suspended over the viral photo. But her suspension has since been rescinded. Do you prefer to go back to virtual school? What would you like to do? For safety reasons and the threats from Corona, remote. Unless something changes like masks are required, then I probably wouldn't go back to in-person. I imagine most honor students love school. You love school. And I value my education at north a lot, and they've always done me right. They've always given me a good education. I don't want to have to risk my life or my family's life just to learn better. Because at this point it's a decision over safety or education and it's an incredibly hard decision for everyone to make.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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