On the first day of school, the teacher cried

Updated 10:32 AM ET, Wed August 12, 2020

In a series of essays called The Distance, Thomas Lake is telling the stories of Americans living through the pandemic. Email thomas.lake@cnn.com if you have a story idea.

Canton, Georgia (CNN)After 28 years as a schoolteacher, Tracy Strange knew how the first week should go. The school would smell fresh and clean. The floors would be polished. The children would be hopeful, their enthusiasm not yet diminished by the fatigue of the year. She would learn their names, teach them the basics of human anatomy, and introduce them to a model skeleton named Fred.

Thomas Lake
Tracy woke up early on Monday, August 3, the first day of school at Sequoyah High in Cherokee County. But she never left the house. Instead she drank her coffee alone and worried about the other teachers. And she cried.
"We all just want to do our jobs," she told me on the phone later that week. "We want to be alive to do them."

Americans living apart and together in the age of pandemic

Tracy is 53, with a minor heart ailment and a more serious lung condition. Her father smoked in the home when she was a child, leaving her vulnerable to respiratory viruses. In 2014, a bad case of the flu became pneumonia and put her in the hospital. Now her in-laws live with her. Both are in their 70s. Her mother-in-law has diabetes and high blood pressure; her father-in-law has Parkinson's Disease and takes immunosuppressive drugs for his rheumatoid arthritis. All that to say why Tracy could not afford to bring home the coronavirus.
As Georgia's infection rate soared in July, many districts chose not to physically re-open schools in August. But in Cherokee County, an upscale area of about 250,000 in the green hills between Atlanta and the Appalachian Mountains, parents wanted a choice. According to district spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby, the county gave it to them. Students could learn digitally from home or in person at school. But teachers would have no such choice. Even if they were teaching virtual classes, they would have to do so from a school building. And students would not be required to wear masks.
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