Florida school counselor Stacey King was “really, really scared” about returning to school during the coronavirus pandemic, she tells Katie Couric in a video series produced with TIME.
King, a counselor at the Sanibel School, a small public school in Sanibel, Fla., is now working with about half her students in person, while the rest learn from home. For those at school, that means a combination of hand sanitizer, plexiglass desk dividers and masks. “It’s very different to be in front of a classroom of kids, and all you can see are their eyes,” King says. “It has been a challenge.”
Teachers across the country have been adapting to an unprecedented school year, as districts bring students back to classrooms, continue with months of more remote learning or develop a mix of in-person and virtual instruction. Many teachers have raised concerns about whether it’s safe to return yet, leading to some sickouts and strike threats. Some teachers, worried about their districts’ plans, chose to retire early.
In Florida, where new COVID-19 cases have been on the decline since peaking in mid-July, a state order that all schools offer in-person classes five days a week sparked an ongoing legal battle from the Florida Education Association teachers’ union.
“We’re educators who love children and love what we do, so of course we want to go back to work and of course we want to be there for our kids. But if it was safe to return to school, we wouldn’t be required to wear masks and go through all the protocols, so obviously there is some danger there,” King tells Couric. “I personally would’ve preferred to return online and to get the numbers down in Florida, make sure that we’re ready to go back. I’m not sure that [the benefit of] going in person outweighs the risks.”
But since the school year began on Aug. 31, King has also noticed her students’ resilience. “One minute, they might say, ‘Ms. King, is this ever going to end?’” she says. “The next minute, they’re laughing and having fun with their friends.”
See the full interview in the video above.
This interview is part of a special series produced in collaboration with Katie Couric. Read more from TIME Reports with Katie Couric, and sign up for her weekday morning newsletter Wake-Up Call with Katie Couric.
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Write to Katie Reilly at Katie.Reilly@time.com.