New CDC Guidelines Push For Schools Reopening
The US surpassed the grim milestone of more than 4 million cases of COVID-19 this week. And while the nation is seeing record-breaking numbers and surges throughout the country, in a few short weeks, thousands of children will potentially be returning to full time, in-person education, as schools across the country plan to reopen.
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control announced new guidelines for the reopening of schools across the country. While there is a strong recommendation for keeping schools closed in areas where there are high levels of community transmission, the new guidelines weigh heavily in favor of sending children back to school.
The Risk Of Keeping Children Out Of Schools
In a statement announcing the new guidelines, CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield said, “School closures have disrupted normal ways of life for children and parents, and they have had negative health consequences on our youth. CDC is prepared to work with K-12 schools to safely reopen while protecting the most vulnerable.”
The new CDC guidelines go on to detail the many risks of keeping children out of school for a second academic year. Citing detrimental emotional, social, mental, and academic effects, it is clear that opening full-time in-person education is the primary goal for the CDC as well as the Trump Administration.
President Donald Trump expressed this sentiment in a statement Thursday saying, “We cannot indefinitely stop 50 million children from going to school. Reopening our schools is also critical to ensuring parents can go to work and provide for their families.”
The CDC guidelines, which are “recommendations” and not “requirements,” list safety and preventative measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and increased sanitation. They also include suggestions for cohorting (keeping children in specified groups to limit exposure), repurposing extra rooms and spaces within the school to make for smaller class sizes, not allowing children to share materials, limited cafeteria use, and encourages outdoor learning when possible.
Even on their website, the CDC acknowledges that a reopening plan adhering to these guidelines is not without risk, listing this option as “more risk” with a remote learning option categorized as “lowest risk.”
Regular screening of students and staff for COVID-19 is not recommended as part of the reopening plan for schools, despite many businesses, corporations, and even sports teams making this an essential factor in their ability to conduct business in the age of coronavirus safely.
The Guideline Overlooked Teachers/School Workers Who Might Be Susceptible To Coronavirus
Most of the language in the new CDC regulations refers to the low risk of illness in young children. Still, it doesn’t adequately address the hundreds of adult staff, including teachers, administrators, and the countless support staff that are also a critical factor in the ability to reopen our schools.
A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly 1.5 million teachers, nearly one in four, are considered at greater risk for COVID-19 illness based on the list of underlying conditions and factors set forth by the CDC. Understandably, many teachers across the country are expressing their concern for their safety and wellbeing amidst the possibility of schools returning to full classrooms in the fall.
Teachers are feeling overlooked and kept out of the conversation, while the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics continue to promote the importance of schools reopening. Teachers are posing questions that no plan seems to have the answers to.
A viral Twitter post from Jillian Starr, an elementary school teacher from Massachusetts, shared a collection of questions she compiled from teachers across the country. These questions shed light on how unprepared and underfunded our school systems are to implement the safety measures needed to reopen our schools.
Some of these questions include:
“If cohorts have to be kept together to limit interactions, how are students receiving required services? Are those teachers coming into classrooms (contaminating each room) or are students leaving the classroom, going against ‘least restrictive environment’ requirements.”
“Teachers have to beg for donations of Clorox wipes and tissues from their families and friends to support cold/flu season. Who is providing ALL of the new disinfectant materials for classrooms? Are teachers expected to do the cleaning? Will they receive hazard pay?”
“School buildings have been deteriorating for years. Many classrooms do not have AC or windows that open (if they have windows at all). How are we ensuring proper air ventilation in these spaces.”
“If families are given a choice between remote vs. in-person learning, will teachers? Will immunocompromised teachers get priority? What about those caring for immunocompromised or elderly family at home? Will teachers be forced to choose between their jobs and their lives?”
The president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, stated: “The bottom line is that without a comprehensive plan that includes federal resources to provide for the safety of our students and educators with funding for personal protective equipment, socially distanced instruction, and addressing racial inequity, we could be putting students, their families, and educators in danger.”
While coronavirus continues to surge across the country, some districts have already announced plans to open only with remote learning come fall. However, the majority of schools are still focused on a return to school as early as August. As the debate rages on, the start of the school year is fast approaching.