President Trump pushed for the nation’s schools to reopen during a press conference on Wednesday. While hosting nurses from around the country and proclaiming May 6 National Nurses Day, the President said, “I would like to see schools open, wherever possible,” adding that older teachers over 60 or with health issues “should not be teaching school for a while.”
Many school districts and education leaders disagree.
“The health and safety of our students, families, and educators must be the primary driver of when it is safe to re-open school buildings in each community,” the National Education Association (NEA) president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, stated in a press release. “We are listening to the health experts and educators on how and when to reopen schools — not the whims of Donald Trump who boasts about trusting his gut to guide him during this unprecedented global health crisis.”
Who Makes the Call
Currently, 48 states and the District of Columbia have all ordered or recommended that schools remain closed for the remainder of the school year. This means that while teachers teach and students learn remotely, the school buildings and facilities remain closed. That also means that many working parents have lost their previous form of childcare that was provided by schools, which creates a significant issue for families.
School openings and closures are determined by each state. More specifically, they’re determined by each district making the reopening of schools a local decision.
This week the state of Montana Governor, Steve Bullock (D) has declared that Montana’s schools are safe to open as of May 7, 2020. However, just because the state has granted the local districts permission to reopen, doesn’t mean that they will do so. Only a handful of districts are expected to reopen school facilities and most of them in a very limited capacity.
Likewise, districts in Montana that are reopening schools are not making it mandatory that students attend. Quite the opposite, many schools are offering specific appointments for students to have one on one instruction with a teacher. Those appointments are being spaced out and allowing for cleaning to take place between sessions, and all participants are being encouraged to wear masks. Other schools are offering small “study halls” for limited amounts of students that need help or may not have access to the technology needed to participate in distance learning.
White House Guidelines
Last month the White House issued guidelines for the reopening of the country’s schools and businesses. In the first phase of reopening, schools that are currently closed should remain closed; school reopenings would take place in phase two of the process.
However, CDC guidelines recommended that all decisions to reopen schools should be made at the local level in conjunction with local health departments.
“Schools, working together with local health departments, have an important role in slowing the spread of diseases and protecting vulnerable students and staff, to help ensure students have safe and healthy learning environments,” the CDC states.
The issue is not just for students and parents, but for employees throughout the school districts as well. According to federal statistics, 29% of teachers are 50 or older, putting them in the high-risk category for COVID-19. That statistic does not include support staff like bus drivers, custodial staff, school nurses or counselors.
The reopening of schools will look vastly different from state to state based on their exposure to the virus and the needs of their individual communities. The American Federation of Teachers and the American Enterprise Institute have both put together suggested scenarios for the reopening process. Many of these include staggered schedules, priority for higher need students, and continued remote learning.