Teachers confront the Trump administration over its hard-line approach to reopening schools in the fall, and unions argue that concerns about the health and safety of educators and staff are left out of the debate.
President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeSantis on the reopening of Florida schools: ‘If you can do Walmart’, then ‘we can absolutely do schools’ The NYT editorial board calls for the reopening of schools with the help of the federal government’s ‘checkbook’ Mueller writes WaPo op-ed: Roger Stone ‘remains a convicted felon, and rightly so’ MORE and their allies constantly argue that schools should reopen because the closings have a negative impact on students, and children have no symptoms or mild symptoms when infected with COVID-19.
But teachers say they are concerned about getting COVID-19 at school or taking it to their families because it’s still unclear what role children play in spreading the virus to others.
“[Trump] He hasn’t mentioned a thing, not a single one, about the risks he’s putting on the good people who come into the school building, “said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Association of Education (NEA), a union that represents 3 million teachers, administrators, and other education professionals.
Trump, education secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVos Sunday shows a preview: Coronavirus raises questions about school safety; Trump commutes Roger Stone’s sentence to Democrats seeking to link Republican candidates to Trump, DeVos DeVos urges school districts to ‘think creatively’ about reopening amid coronavirus MORE and many of the administration’s top health officials spent the past week holding public events urging schools to open their doors this fall.
DeVos said a little less than five days a week of in-person instruction would be unacceptable and threatened to cut federal funding for schools that did not meet his expectations, a move that would likely face an avalanche of lawsuits.
Their demands were unrealistic and unsafe by school districts, teachers, and principals, especially in areas of the country experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases. They also noted that they need more funds, not less, to protect students and staff from infection at a time when state and local governments are facing budget deficits due to weeks and months of coronavirus strikes.
DeVos’s comments came weeks after schools were in the midst of preparations for the upcoming academic year, throwing an unexpected key into his plans. While decisions about how and when schools will reopen rest with governors, local school districts, and boards, unions are concerned that those officials feel pressured by the president.
“It has to be appropriate for its community and where it is, and it has to be done well or people are going to die,” said Garcia.
Trump could benefit from the full reopening of schools in the fall before an election in which the economy will play a major role. The administration has pointed out the financial benefits of having children in the classroom as it would allow parents to return to their jobs if they cannot work remotely.
“Parents have to go back to the factory. They have to return to the workplace. They have to go back to the office. And part of that is your children, knowing that your children are cared for, ”Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said last week.
Azar also said that closing classrooms was harmful to children due to unintended consequences such as child hunger and the inability of schools to report cases of child abuse.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidelines designed to help schools safely reopen by recommending steps such as social distancing, face covering for students, and frequent staff and cleaning.
Trump criticized the guidelines last week, calling them “too harsh” and “expensive” for schools. It is unclear which parts of the guidelines you opposed.
Azar said schools should not use the CDC guide as an excuse for not reopening.
However, most schools simply do not have the space to teach in person five days a week and keep students six feet away.
“What frustrates us are the CDC – Director [Robert] Redfield: not recognizing how wide the gap is between that ideal world and the reality of schools, “said Bob Farrace, director of communications for the National Association of High School Principals.
“The challenge is when the CDC says, ‘But by the way, none of this should stop schools from opening.’ Then it becomes a problem. They have to recognize the possibility that school leaders simply have to limit how open they can make the school building if, in fact, what we want to do is follow CDC guidelines. ”
Many schools have been planning hybrid models that reduce the number of days students are in the classroom while offering online instruction.
Last week, DeVos repeatedly criticized a similar model used by the Fairfax County School District in Virginia, in which half the student population attends school on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the other half attends Wednesdays and Fridays.
“The health and safety of our staff, our students, and our community must come before politics,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand wrote in a letter to parents after DeVos’ comments.
“We would all prefer to have a normal school year in person,” he added. “But we cannot have the same number of students in the same number of available buildings for the same amount of time and still maintain the social detachment that the CDC and other health experts say is essential to protecting children and teachers. of this global pandemic. “
Most public health experts agree that the risk of serious illness from COVID-19 is rare in children, a data point frequently touted by the Trump administration as a reason to reopen schools.
But since children with COVID-19 are less likely to become seriously ill, if they show any symptoms at all, it’s unclear what role they play in passing it on to others. That worries teachers and other school staff, many of whom are at risk of serious illness if they become infected because they are older or have underlying health problems. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 24 percent of teachers are at risk of serious illness if they become infected with COVID-19 due to their health or age.
“The people most at risk in schools are not children: they are the staff, the teachers and the community,” said Tom Frieden, who led the CDC during the Obama administration.
But that fact has been ignored by the Trump administration and some governors, the teachers argue.
“They don’t care about teachers and staff. Betsy DeVos has never cared about teachers, “said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a group that has endorsed the former vice president. Joe BidenJoe Biden Donald Trump Jr. will publish the book ‘Liberal Privilege’ ahead of the Republican Tom Price convention – this is how we can get more affordable care. in the 2020 race.
The federal government has limited capacity to establish policy for schools. About 90 percent of school budgets are funded by state and local governments. The remaining 10 percent is federal government funding to cover services for low-income students. Cutting that money from schools would probably be unconstitutional because it was already appropriated by Congress.
However, Weingarten said he was concerned that Trump would “reaffirm” schools to reopen. In fact, Trump said last week that he would “pressure governors and everyone else to open schools.”
“People are scared and that will result in too many people deciding to retire or deciding to leave this year and that will not be good for children,” he said.
Still, some states are following the example of the Trump administration. In Florida, which has one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in the country, the state department of education told school districts that schools would have to open at least five days a week for parents who wanted in-person instruction .
“Teachers die of fear,” said Florida President of Education Fedrick Ingram. “They are making difficult decisions, they are making retirement decisions. They are making decisions about which schools to teach. If I’m going to stay in this business or not. This is a critical mass for us and the fact that we do not have the virus under control in the state of Florida gives us a pause for any level of trust, any level of respect for the leadership that we are putting first. “