In states where politicians are pushing for schools to return to in-person learning despite a surge in coronavirus cases, teachers are finding a number of creative ways to voice their concerns about returning to the classroom. In Iowa, for example, a teacher wrote his own obituary to protest schools reopening and sent it to the state's governor with the hope that it might convince her to at least make face coverings mandatory in schools.
"Jeremy Dumkrieger, 43, passed away on [insert Date here] due to complications arising from COVID-19," Jeremy Dumkrieger, an art teacher in Sioux City, Iowa, wrote in his obituary. "He died alone, isolated from the family who meant the world to him."
In an Iowa Starting Line op-ed published earlier this month alongside his preemptive obituary, Dumkrieger urged other Iowa educators to write their own obituaries and send them to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds as a form of protest. "I have prepared my obituary and am sending it to Gov. Kim Reynolds to express my concern regarding the absence of a statewide mask mandate for our schools," Dumkrieger wrote. "If you are a teacher, please join in this protest by crafting your obituary."
In a proclamation issued Friday, Reynolds directed all school districts in Iowa to focus on welcoming students back for in-person learning in the fall. As part of her proclamation, Reynolds clarified that schools could only move to a learning model that primarily relied on remote learning under certain conditions, including prior authorization from state and local public health officials.
"Under Iowa law, 'in-person instruction is the presumed method of instruction' for all school districts and accredited nonpublic schools during the 2020-2021 school year," Reynolds said in her proclamation. "I direct that all state agencies, school districts, and other local governmental bodies and agencies shall take all efforts to prepare to safely welcome back students and teachers to school in-person this fall." Romper has reached out to Reynolds for comment on Dumkrieger's protest.
But Dumkrieger is not the only Iowa educator to protest Reynolds' Return To Learn strategy. According to the Des Moines Register, hundreds of teachers and their supporters held a "Drive for Lives" car parade around the Iowa Statehouse in protest of the governor's recent proclamation. According to the paper, organizers behind the protest called for Reynolds to rescind her proclamation and allow schools determine "the safest return-to-learn models for their communities" and "make science-based decisions" geared at protecting the health of students, teachers, and staff.
While Iowa has not recently reported a spike in coronavirus cases, neither has the state seen a decrease in new case counts. According to The New York Times, the number of coronavirus cases in Iowa has averaged 506 cases per day over the past week. As of Monday, the paper reported Iowa had seen a total of 42,518 coronavirus cases and 832 deaths since the public health pandemic first began.
Although it's not immediately clear how many educators may have joined Dumkrieger in preemptively writing their own obituaries and sending them to Reynolds, it's clear that teachers across the country have serious concerns about what a return to in-person learning amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic could mean for their health.