Educators have just been through the second-most challenging year of their professional lives. What’s the most challenging year? The one that starts this fall. Schools will face an enormous pressure to make up for lost time.  Schools face staffing shortages with insufficient teachers, school counselors, psychologists, or nurses.  Schools still need to be mindful of safety efforts, ranging from adequate student spacing, cleanliness, and ventilation. Many children are still not old enough to be vaccinated, which means layered mitigation tactics are also critical.

Roughly 90 percent of our AFT members are vaccinated, and GFT members are not that far behind. Getting vaccinated will help keep you and your family safe. At the very least, wear a mask.

Educators have been the first responders to students’ needs—troubleshooting technological problems; tending to students’ emotional needs; and helping them through the hurdles of online, hybrid and in-person learning. And that can take a toll.  In a recent survey, 78 percent of teachers reported frequent job-related stress—almost twice as many as most other working adults during the pandemic, and teachers were nearly three times as likely to experience symptoms of depression as the general adult population.

But educators are preparing to be back in school in person, full time—because they know that’s what students need.

There are continued risks, particularly from the delta variant, which is causing alarming increases in infections in places with low vaccination rates.

Yet schools can fully reopen this fall in person—with ventilation upgrades; social, emotional and academic supports for students; and the resources needed to do all this. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance this week detailing mitigation measures schools should employ, recognizing that not everyone has been vaccinated.

With funding from the coronavirus rescue package and the American Rescue Plan, communities throughout the country are making schools safer.

But some families still have reservations.  Even more, some school districts across the nation are suing to remove some of the safety measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

People whose loved ones have gotten sick or died from COVID-19 may have heightened fears about sending their children to school. Families may be skeptical that safety precautions will be in place.

If the bathrooms at their child’s school lacked soap before the pandemic or the ventilation was poor, it is an even greater concern now. Their children may be too young or unable to be vaccinated, and some people worry about the safety of vaccines.

As much as we want to feel “normal” again, we can do better than the old normal of test-based accountability systems and vast inequality. As we return to full-time in-person schooling, we have a unique opportunity to pursue new initiatives to help all kids thrive.

When students return to school this fall, they will bring with them the scars of a long struggle we wish they did not have to endure, and educators will help them recover and feel safe and welcome. Students will also bring with them their hopes and their potential, and teachers will get back to what brought them to this hope-filled profession—helping their students not only dream their dreams but achieve them.