Monday, August 10, 2020

School reopening plans getting pushback from teachers

On Tuesday the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released a set of guidelines for reopening public schools in the fall; guidelines which include in-school learning. While there is room for parents to opt for remote instruction, the guidelines are getting pushback from educators saying it will lead to an unsafe environment.

“Both as Commissioner and as a public school parent, my number one priority is the health and safety of our students, teachers, and staff,” said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. “That is why the guidance laid out today will provide flexibility to both parents and districts to make decisions based on the ever-changing conditions of this public health crisis. The state is and remains committed to providing a high-quality education to all Texas students, while ensuring the health and safety of students, teachers, staff, and families.”

Throughout the country, and around the world, classrooms have sat empty for months. Efforts to restart schools are being met with resistance by teachers and parents. (Photo: Feliphe Schiarolli / Unsplash)

In addition to giving parents the option of in-school or remote learning, the guidelines addressed a wide variety of other issues. It called for the screening of students and teachers coming back to campus, the requirement of masks while on campus and leaving room for forthcoming executive orders. The release also conveyed the state’s commitment to providing the necessaary personal protective equipment, teacher training and resources for bridging the “digital divide” in homes where remote access is currently a challenge.

But the state’s commitment doesn’t sit well with the members of Texas AFT, the state’s affiliate of the national American Federation of Teachers. In a follow-up statement, Texas AFT leaders said the state was acting ‘intentionally and recklessly with gross negligence” under the current plan.

“Previously we said, ‘Hell No!’ to Mike Morath and TEA about the necessity of returning students and teachers to campuses,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo. “The claim that it would be safe didn’t jive with what school employees and parents know about the dangers of COVID-19. That was before Texas started seeing a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases.

“Much of the guidance released by TEA today appears to ignore the reality of the record number of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations across the state. We are actually one of the nation’s worst “hot-spot” states, and yet TEA continues to stress the supposed dire need to get kids clustered together again in often overcrowded school buildings. It is simply not worth the enormous risk of harm to our children and school employees.

“TEA also needs to abandon, or at least put into context, its message that returning to campuses at this point will be safe because “relatively few children with COVID-19 are hospitalized or have severe symptoms.” The problem with this stance is that it still puts adults–our school employees, parents, and the overall community at significant risk–while also ignoring the enormity of the numbers of students and adults returning to school. Low percentages still can turn into big numbers in these situations, as was seen recently with the rapid spread resulting in hundreds of new cases reported in Texas daycare centers in late June.”

The frustration between educators and the government officials overseeing their operation is not specific to Texas. Following a roundtable discussion with President Donald J. Trump on Wednesday, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia complained that safety concerns were not being met by administration officials. She also accused the administration of using the pandemic to try to push a voucher system and further an effort to provatize education.

“If Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos have proven anything over the past four years, it’s that they do not care about students,” Garcia said. “They have zero credibility for how to best support students, and how to re-open classrooms safely.

“I dare Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos to sit in that classroom where the kids don’t have what they need to be safe, and the school doesn’t have enough money to provide a hotspot or a device for them because of the Senate’s failure to finish their job.

“Where they, and educators, don’t have the masks and PPE they need. Where they can’t socially distance because there are 40 kids in the class. And then see how they feel about cavalierly demanding that schools reopen in an unsafe manner. America must listen to the health experts on when to reopen schools and to educators on how to return to in-person instruction.”

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