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Everyone wants children to go back to school this fall, according to President Donald Trump.
“We want to reopen the schools,” he said Tuesday during a round-table discussion on education. “Everybody wants it. The moms want it, the dads want it, the kids want it. It’s time to do it.”
But teachers who actually bear the burden of reopening — the risk of bringing infection home, the chaos of restructured lesson plans to account for hybrid learning and the pricey bill that accompanies implementing social distancing measures — are less enthusiastic about the prospect of a hasty return.
“Regardless of the date, no school must reopen until the pandemic has clearly begun to subside and strict safety standards are in place for that campus,” the Texas State Teachers Association said in a statement Tuesday.
Texas is in the midst of a dramatic spike in coronavirus cases after officials rolled back the restrictions that shuttered bars, restaurants and small businesses early on in the pandemic.
Still, Gov. Greg Abbott has said “it will be safe” to reopen K-12 schools this fall, the Texas Tribune reported.
The concerns of teachers in Texas echo a nationwide call for clarity in the wake of comments made by Trump, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos — who has threatened to withhold federal funding from schools that refuse to reopen, Newsweek reported — and the American Academy of Pediatrics, which came out in support of schools reopening last month.
“Students who are in school learn more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. They also learn social and emotional skills, get healthy meals and exercise, and mental health support,” Dr. Sally Goza, president of the AAP, said during Trump’s press conference Tuesday. “Schools help identify and address learning deficits, physical abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal (ideas). These are all critical reasons to get children back to school.”
“Of course, returning to school must be done safely,” Goza said.
At least six parent and teachers associations have openly criticized the president’s call to reopen, CNN reported.
“Public school educators, students and parents must have a voice in critical conversations and decisions on reopening schools,” the groups said in a statement. “The president should not be brazenly making these decisions.”
The National Education Association similarly accused Trump and DeVos of ignoring educators’ concerns.
“If Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos have proven anything over the past four years, it’s that they do not care about students,” sixth grade teacher Lily Eskelsen García, who is president of the association, said in a statement Tuesday. “They have zero credibility for how to best support students, and how to re-open classrooms safely.”
Even before the discussion about schools reopening was thrust into the national spotlight, one-in-five educators said they were unlikely to return, McClatchy News reported, citing a survey conducted in May by USA Today and the market research firm Ipsos.
EdWeek’s Research Center released the results of a similar survey around the same time that found 65% of educators wanted schools to stay closed.
For many states where coronavirus case numbers and hospitalizations continue to move in the wrong direction, that sentiment hasn’t changed.
Officials in Florida have struggled to contain the spread of COVID-19. But education commissioner Richard Corcoran directed all school districts “to offer parents the option of sending their children to full-time school, five days a week” in an emergency order Monday, USA Today reported.
The move sparked an outcry among teachers’ unions across the state.
Karen Resciniti, president of the Martin County Education Association, told USA Today that reopening now “could be catastrophic,” and Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, told CNN he wouldn’t reopen if conditions in Florida remain as they are.
“Our reopening plan contemplates a phase two reality,” he said. “We are still in phase one, a phase one that has degraded over the past few weeks.”
Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association, said school districts in Florida haven’t been given enough guidance, CNN reported.
“We’ve been given no regulations that make sense to reopen our schools, and in the middle of a pandemic, we’re being told we have to reopen schools come hell or high water,” Ingram told the media outlet.
Teachers in Orange County, where the district weighed several back-to-school options Tuesday, drove around outside district headquarters in protest with signs that read, “Keep schools closed. Keep teachers safe” and “How many students must die?” The Orlando Sentinel reported.
A similar thing happened on Wednesday in Detroit, where schools are slated to reopen next week.
“It is risking the health and lives of the students, their parents, everyone in these school communities,” teacher Benjamin Royal told Fox 2 during a protest outside an elementary school. “Putting these students in classrooms with teachers is just a recipe for a renewed outbreak in Detroit and we want to stop that before it happens.”
Reopening is a lose-lose situation, Dan Domenech, who runs the American Association of School Administrators, told Politico.
”You have parents that are demanding the schools to open. And then you have parents that are saying, we’re not going to send our kids to school,” he told the media outlet. “You have teachers that are saying we’re not going to go back to work. Districts that are saying, with these budget cuts, we’re going to have to lay off teachers.”
“It’s just, this is unbelievable,” he said.