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Teachers from around the U.S. weigh in on school reopening debate: "I am putting my children at risk"

Teachers react to going back to school
Teachers across the country ask what going back to school looks like 02:52

A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that about one in four teachers have a condition that puts them at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19. Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, told "CBS This Morning" Thursday that the "primary concern" of superintendents around the country has been the safety of students, as well as staff as the country grapples with reopening amid a surge in coronavirus cases

Answering teachers' questions about going back to school this fall 05:27

"So we have a number of plans, and you're seeing that happening right now in terms of what districts have announced is going to happen when school opens," he said.

He described three plans. The first is to "come back as if nothing has happened."

"I don't know why" some districts are considering the plan, he said. 

The second plan details a hybrid model that would have groups of students return on certain days to reduce the amount of people inside at one time.

"The third one, which we're also beginning to see, particularly in districts around the Washington, D.C. area and other parts of the country, is that it's not safe yet, and therefore remote learning is going to continue," he said.

In his work leading a task force to guide schools on reopening, Domenech said he would be adhering to CDC guidelines for "outlining" what is safe.

We want to make sure students are safe, and we want to make sure that staff is safe," he said.

"CBS This Morning" also spoke with four teachers from around the country to hear what they have to say about reopening. Here are their thoughts:

Rosa Maria Rivera teaches ESL at a Dallas, TX middle school CBS News

Rose Maria Rivera is an ESL teacher at a middle school in Dallas, Texas. She said her underlying conditions make her feel like she would be putting both herself and her family in harm's way by returning to in-person instruction. 

"I feel very uneasy returning to face-to-face instruction because I am putting my children at risk of contracting COVID-19," she said. 

Rivera said she wants to give her students her full support, but that full support comes with a high cost. 

"I want to support my students, but if I pass from this disease I won't be able to support my students, or my young adult children," she said. 

Sara Lang, a science teacher in Minneapolis, MN CBS News

Sara Lang, who teaches science at a private elementary school in Minneapolis, said she "definitely" wanted to get "back in school safely" — but acknowledged that change was needed.  

"There are kids who are in unsafe places and school is their safe place to be," she said.

Instruction would be "different," Lang said, but that would be "okay."

"We are going to have reduced class sizes, we are going to have distancing… the less they get close to each other, the better," Lang said. "Going back to school is not going to mean going back to school the way we remember it being." 

Karla Reyes is a special education teacher in New York, NY CBS News

Karla Reyes, a special education teacher in New York, called on "the federal government and city governments" to prepare schools for safe in-person instruction.

They "need to step up and invest in education and all the different guarantees to make sure that we don't die," she said. 

Reyes said there was "a lot to consider" before schools could reopen.

"Not all schools have soap, not all schools have portable water," she said. "Hundreds of people are coming into contact with each other every day."

Dr. Kai Rush, a high school teacher in Clearwater, Florida CBS News

Dr. Kai Rush is a high school teacher in Clearwater, Florida. No matter how much he wanted to see his students' "smiling faces in front of the classroom," he said it was more important for them "to come back safely." 

He said teachers were responsible for taking care of these children when their parents are not around. 

"While you're not there, we're there," Rush said. "And we want to make sure that they have the best environment possible before going back."

He did not go into teaching "for the money," he said, and neither did thousands of other teachers calling for a safe return.

"We got into this profession because we love kids." 

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