Educators Say US Needs Better Plan to Reopen Schools Safely in Pandemic
WASHINGTON – House Democrats, at a congressional hearing Thursday on reopening public schools, accused President Donald Trump of mishandling the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
They said schools might not have been forced to close early in the Spring and resort to distance learning if the Trump administration had developed a coordinated plan to manage the crisis better.
“The president views the decision about how to reopen schools as a political dispute about his own reelection,” said Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., chairman of the House Oversight and Reform subcommittee that held the hearing.
“Schools must reopen based on science and the safety of our children and teachers, not politics and wishful thinking,” Clyburn said.
The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis also released a report Thursday blaming Trump for many of the roughly 159,000 American coronavirus deaths so far and millions of job layoffs.
Trump “intentionally misled the American public on every aspect of the pandemic,” the report says.
Clyburn said the president’s statements about U.S. successes in testing for coronavirus and treating the disease show he is in denial about realities of the devastation it is causing. He called the statements dangerous.
“It’s past time for President Trump and Senate Republicans to face reality and join us in moving forward with a national testing and contact tracing plan,” Clyburn said.
He urged the Senate to approve the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act or HEROES Act, a $3 trillion stimulus bill that responds to the COVID-19 pandemic. As much as $200 billion of the money could be used by public schools to adjust to disease restrictions on social distancing, masks and face-to-face teaching.
The Democrat-controlled House approved the HEROES Act on May 12. It still is pending in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Republicans on the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis sidestepped accusations that Trump mismanaged the pandemic.
Instead, they focused on the need to safely reopen schools from kindergarten through high school.
“No other setting has more influence on a child’s health and well-being than their school,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.
He said any challenges to reopening schools to face-to-face teaching “can be adequately addressed.”
“We know how to reopen safely,” Scalise said.
Suggestions discussed during the hearing included putting students in smaller groups, improved ventilation in schools, conducting classes outdoors and frequent symptom screening.
He disagreed with educators at the congressional hearing who said they needed an additional $200 billion for safe school reopening.
Scalise said the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, contained $100 billion for school health and safety when Congress approved it in March. Not all of the money has been used yet, he said.
Educators who testified told personal stories about colleagues sickened or killed by coronavirus. They also said the Trump administration has largely failed to protect teachers, students and school staff members.
“In the absence of a clear plan, [school] superintendents are being left to navigate these decisions on their own,” said former U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “We’re asking them to make potentially life and death decisions.”
He suggested that choices between in-person teaching or distance learning should vary between states, depending on the severity of the disease in different school districts.
Angela Skillings, a second grade teacher at Hayden-Winkelman School District in rural Gila County, Ariz., told about a fellow teacher who died of coronavirus.
She said her death serves as an example that teachers can be forced to choose between their health or their jobs under current conditions.
“Yes, teachers want to be in the classroom but they also need to think about themselves and their families,” Skillings said.
In The News
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Unified School District’s distance learning plan has caused “enormous learning losses” and left tens of thousands of Black and Latino students without a basic education, according to allegations in a class action lawsuit filed against the district Thursday. The lawsuit,... Read More
Third Way recently added new additions to its ACADEMIX Upshot series, a short-form research series dedicated to examining the impact of COVID-19 on America’s education system. Academic experts across the country have contributed to Third Way’s series since it first launched this past summer. According to... Read More
As part of the second day of its four-day festival, the Atlantic Festival held multiple panels featuring college leaders and providers discussing college reopenings and the lasting impact of the pandemic on the higher education landscape in the future. In a conversation moderated by Ron Brownstein,... Read More
WASHINGTON — Just days before the Aug. 3 scheduled start of school, officials at the Athens Independent School District in East Texas received a shock. Cybercriminals had attacked the district’s entire computer network, encrypting all the data and demanding $50,000 in ransom for its release. Access... Read More
Comcast gave students and teachers in a Pennsylvania school district a big surprise last week -- free Dell Laptops and a year of internet access to support virtual learning and help them overcome the coronavirus pandemic. The city of McKeesport, Pa., was recently ranked the fourth... Read More
PHILADELPHIA — Dawn Pittman retired from teaching in 2013 after more than three decades. But Pittman has no plans to give up her passion — even in a pandemic. When Camden resumes in-person learning, possibly in January, she hopes to answer the call as a substitute.... Read More