Teachers with At-Risk Family Members Struggle Amidst Pandemic

With COVID-19 cases surging in the Butte County Area, many faculty members are struggling with keeping their families safe. One of these faculty members is Matthew Plummer, the Durham High Band teacher, whose son Clark is currently battling Leukemia.

 Clark is six years old, and currently attends Durham Elementary School as a first-grader. During the pandemic, it has been difficult for the family to keep Clark safe, given that Clark’s immune system has been weakened by his cancer treatment. When asked about what exactly makes Clark high-risk, Plummer responded, “Suppressed immune system, Leukemia. He takes chemo, which kills all the white blood cells in his blood. And when you take chemo, it damages your bone marrow which makes the white blood cells. You don’t have any immune system left because all the white blood cells are gone.” Because of his chemo, Clark’s immune response has been weakened, meaning that he is much more susceptible to contracting a serious case of COVID-19. 

Returning to in-person instruction has posed many challenges to the Plummer family. At one point, Plummer even considered switching to a distanced teaching model. “The biggest challenge has been making sure that I stay safe and clean so that I can have peace of mind that I will be able to live life with my son at home safely.” Plummer has been taking the virus very seriously and makes ample effort to keep his classroom safe and clean. This is imperative for Clark’s wellbeing that Plummer is able to keep himself healthy and safe while teaching at Durham High.

Since returning to school, Durham has given the option of distance learning or in-person instruction. Luckily, Clark has been able to return to in-person learning. “He has gone back to school, but masks are not technically required in grades K through 2nd. So, I worked with the school over there and they moved him to a different class because many of the parents in the other classes were refusing to have their kids wear a mask. Luckily, the parents in the class moved him to send their kids to school with masks.” In order to keep Clark safe, it is very important that the kids in his class are wearing face coverings, and that the classroom is kept clean. Cooperation from parents and kids is the only way that Clark will be able to go to school safely. 

Durham has employed some safety measures including desk separation and increased sanitation. When asked about these precautions Plummer said, “They make me more comfortable than if there were no measures, but I’m concerned how my son will stay in school if we go back to full density. In addition, I’m concerned about whether my daughter can stay in school since she’s around him constantly.” With the possibility of returning to full capacity, Plummer worries that this may put himself and his family in danger. If safety measures are not able to be maintained, the probability of himself, his son, or his daughter contracting the virus rises considerably. 

On the bright side, Plummer has been able to avoid catching the virus up until now. A few family members have had it, but other than that his inner circle has stayed safe and healthy. “I’ve had some cousins who had it and my nephew, but the people I’m really close with have not, and the people I’m with are very cautious not to spread it to me.” Plummer’s friends and close family have been very careful, and know the importance of keeping Clark safe. The most important thing is that the community and school do everything they can to be responsible so that Mr. Plummer can continue teaching, and Clark can stay healthy.