Guest view: Schools need federal support to reopen safely
All across the country, schools were working hard to figure out how to have a safe and productive school year in the midst of a pandemic. Then President Donald Trump last week made a tough situation worse with threats and recriminations.
Anyone who has been paying attention — and parents have been especially attentive — knows that school reopenings should be guided by science, safety and diligence. But as has been the case throughout the national response to the coronavirus pandemic, presidential bluster continues to complicate the already arduous task of getting children back to their classrooms.
Trump’s call to water down Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for how the nation’s schools could reopen safely and the threat to cut federal funding if classes aren’t held in person are the last things parents, teachers and school administrators need from the president. We all know that K-12 instruction with teachers and students in the same room beats remote learning. However, we also know that the spread of COVID-19 may make distant learning a necessary alternative.
If only the president were as attentive to the challenge and had offered plans earlier instead of delivering rebukes now. In the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed earlier this year, Congress dedicated about $13.2 billion for K-12 schools. Competing bills in the House and Senate would provide more federal assistance to schools, but both measures are deadlocked in Congress.
School administrators say that an additional round of federal assistance is essential as they struggle to balance budgets, alter physical plants to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, and improve remote learning. The president should be demanding that Congress shake loose funds to help schools through these tough times, not threatening to punish schools that don’t reopen with children in classrooms.
The CDC’s current recommendation calls for schools to modify layouts to maintain social distancing, install physical barriers, disinfect classrooms, avoid serving group meals in cafeterias and eliminate the sharing of computers, toys and other materials. The CDC’s guidance also suggests isolating students and staff members for several days if they test positive for the virus.
It is unclear what Trump wants from revised guidelines. Still, the mere hint of reduced precautions will make coaxing concerned teachers and students back into the classroom more difficult. Officials in large school districts worry that many students and teachers will not return to a physical classroom, prompting Dallas, for example, to consider delaying school reopening until after Labor Day. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Unified School District on Monday announced it would keep its campuses closed to start the fall. And of course, all of this uncertainty has a major impact on transportation and other district costs, too.
The Texas Education Agency recently offered health guidelines for schools to reopen safely including masking, screening protocols and a promise to reimburse school districts for COVID-19 costs incurred in the 2019-20 school year. In Texas, public school districts must reopen campuses for in-person instruction next month to continue receiving state funding.
The bottom line is that schools must have the leeway to determine when it is safe to reopen and they need federal government to help make that happen.
— Dallas Morning News