The Biden-Harris administration faces huge challenges. Addressing school safety during Covid-19 is at the top of their list. This is welcome news. Goals are important for clarity and to give us hope.
President Biden wasted no time getting out his National Strategy for the Covid-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness. Schools are specifically addressed starting on page 77.
Here are concerns and what looks good.
1. We can teach our children in safe schools.
In his Inaugural Address, the only time the President mentioned schools was when he said We can teach our children in safe schools.
He used the word We which collectively implies all of us, and it’s comforting to know he cares about teachers, students, parents, and schools and is working on this serious issue with experts.
I’m sure the President understands, that when it comes to We, it’s the teacher along with school staff risking their lives to enter that classroom and school building and who face the possibility of getting the virus. It’s the teacher who is responsible for keeping children safe. Children do get this virus.
Teachers and school staff, not just administrators must be heard in their local school districts. In some places, that’s happening and in other places, it’s a struggle.
2. The Administration has set the goal of safely reopening a majority of K-8 schools in 100 days.
The goal of 100 days provides time. But school districts shouldn’t see this as a green light to ramp up school-building attendance when it isn’t safe. This virus isn’t bound by time.
3. Students have lost months of learning as a result of school closures, and losses are particularly acute for lower-income students and students of color.
It’s a common mistake to say that schools are closed or to imply that students have not been learning for months. School buildings may be closed but teachers are working very hard with students remotely.
Some schools have been open. Schooling is happening. Every student should by now be connected to their teacher online remotely.
Also, parents and educators of color are getting tired of hearing that students of color are behind. Some of the information presented about this is questionable. There are even fears that this refrain is being used to reopen schools prematurely and that it’s rooted in racism.
Every effort should be made to address the connectivity issues children face with technology, and teachers and school district administrators likely know who these students are and what they need.
School districts should continue to make every effort to locate missing students and make sure that they get support during this trying time. This is not only a job for schools but for social workers and public health.
4. Given the disastrous impact of school closures on families, the economy and our society, it is a national priority to reopen our schools and keep them open.
The few reports supporting this idea have been questionable. The last thing students need is to be forced to return to schools to take high-stakes testing and feel added pressure to perform due to this pandemic.
For years school reform has created a false paradigm of high-stakes standards used to sell programs. The pandemic is a good time to put the brakes on such standards and refocus on the learning needs of students.
Teachers closest to the students and parents are working to keep track of progress. They understand ways they can evaluate their students and see how far they’ve come.
5. The Administration will also work to promote access to safe, effective vaccinations for the teachers, school staff and childcare providers who our communities depend on every day.
Teachers and staff need vaccinations before they are required to return to school. School districts need to ensure that teachers have access to vaccinations.
There’s also concern that children will not be vaccinated. Parents and educators need more clarity about this disease, the new variants, and how children will be affected.
6. …addressing transportation and ventilation needs, providing PPE hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes to allow for social distancing, hiring nurses, providing more counselors to address students’ social and emotional needs, and providing additional learning supports for students (like summer school or tutoring).
Ventilation systems will likely remain a problem, especially in old schools and some schools have windows that won’t open.
More teachers are needed but there don’t seem to be any plans to recruit qualified teachers to teach remotely or safely when school buildings open. Instead, in some places teachers are being driven out of the classroom and retiring early due to being forced to return and their fears of getting the virus.
Hiring nurses and more counselors is definitely a plus, and they can also be working remotely alongside teachers.
There’s much talk about tutors and summer school, which again presupposes prematurely that students have fallen behind. Perhaps waiting until the need arises would be more frugal, and getting more teachers in front of students remotely would be better.
Local school districts should guard against replacing teachers with volunteers, fast-track teachers, or tutors. That’s not to say that tutors shouldn’t be made available to students who need them.
7. The Biden-Harris Administration will direct a whole-of-government effort to ensure that schools and businesses that can open safely have the resources to do so – and that those that must remain closed have the support to do that too.
States and local school district administrators and politicians must consider this statement and respect the wishes of teachers who are ultimately responsible for instruction.
I especially like that President Biden speaks about inclusivity, and when it comes to the virus and schooling, it would be nice to see a panel that includes the real teachers who face children in the classroom, and who recognize the safety concerns, along with parents and teachers who may not see the virus as a threat.
8. School leaders, educators, and parents need clear guidance – grounded in science – that they can rely upon to safely re-open and remain open.
It would also be nice to see doctors, scientists, and policymakers visit school facilities, especially the older schools so they can see firsthand the difficulties educators, school staff, and children face in the classroom.
It is good to see the President call on the help and support of FEMA.
President Biden appears to be trying to create structure concerning this virus and its effects on school, and it looks like he supports educators and that is a huge positive.