By Brenda Ortega
MEA Voice Editor
One of Karen Moore’s proudest accomplishments as Grand Blanc West High School secretary is the “zen room” she created a few years ago—outfitted with soft lights, gentle white noise, a lilac-scented diffuser, and coloring books, crayons, and puzzles.
It’s a testament to her powers that she convinced the building principal to give up his office to help her create the safe space for students who “need a minute.”
“It’s a calming place where kids know they can come if they need a place to breathe,” the MEA member said. “That’s just what you do. You take care of the kids. It’s my job.”
Today, however, the zen room sits unused, and taking care of the kids feels unsettling. Months into the global COVID-19 pandemic, Moore is the person tasked with isolating high school students who fall ill during the school day while parents are contacted to pick them up.
“I’m almost 60 years old, and I have a father who is almost 83, and it’s scary,” Moore said. “We’ve had training on how to protect ourselves. We have the gowns and the gloves and the masks—all of the PPE—but it is still very scary.”
The district’s two school nurses—“true heroes” in Moore’s eyes—worked with administration to develop safety protocols to try to prevent the spread of infection, she said. If a student presents to the office, Moore knows to direct them to an isolation room equipped with beds.
The room has a separate exit to the outdoors, and if she needs to enter for some reason, Moore will don a gown, face shield, gloves, and second mask. “We have tape on the floor that’s six feet away from the beds, so we know the safe distance to stand.”
This fall, the clerical staff endured rotating unpaid furloughs for a time, a strategy that avoided layoffs and prevented the loss of health care and other benefits—a move she helped to negotiate as president of the local clerical union.
She might have retired if she weren’t carrying health insurance for her family. Instead she buys disinfectant wipes and uses them daily: “First thing I do is wipe down surfaces—my phone, keyboard, pens, light fixtures, bathroom handles. Mentally it’s that extra layer of protection.”
Over the summer she coped by working on her backyard garden after her son decided to replace his planned wedding with an intimate gathering of five guests in the yard. Her husband also got her involved in running five-kilometer races in the area.
“I think you have to do something on purpose,” she said. “Whether you read or garden or cook, work on cars or run. Something that’s only for you. It’s not selfish; it’s self-preservation.”
Still she worries about what’s to come. When we spoke, only a fraction of high school students in Grand Blanc were coming for in-person learning. More are scheduled to return in January.
“You do what you have to do. You take the precautions, you go by the guidelines, and I pray for protection of the staff and students and administration and nurses. It’s my prayer every day.”
Read more stories from the series, “What it’s Like: COVID Vignettes”: