By Amanda Menas
Public schools play a central role in every community. That’s why everyone is eager for schools to reopen for in-person learning–state and local leaders, educators, parents, and students alike–but only if it can be done safely.
Educators across the country are working tirelessly to get ready for the coming year, and for many, the year will begin with virtual instruction. The pandemic has continued to worsen in recent weeks, and many school districts have found that they cannot offer even part-time in person learning because they lack the resources needed to follow CDC guidelines on social distancing, personal protective equipment for students and staff, and cleaning supplies and staff to disinfect at regular intervals.
The country desperately needs national leadership to provide federal financial assistance to states and localities that will be forced to slash billions from public schools due to the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. As many as 2 million educator jobs could be lost over the next three years if Congress doesn’t act, an NEA analysis shows.
Instead of providing the leadership and funding that schools and communities need to support the reopening of the entire economy, the Trump administration has repeatedly tried to downplay the severity of the pandemic, and has used the crisis to push its privatization agenda that will siphon much-needed funding from public education to private schools.
The Senate has not acted to pass another major COVID relief package, leaving America’s public schools and all the families who rely on them in limbo as they try to figure out on their own what comes next.
Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stalled legislation that would provide billions of dollars in emergency funding for schools, that would save educator jobs and help narrow the digital divide–an existing inequity that disproportionately affects Black and Brown students, rural students, and those living in poverty. Meanwhile, GOP senators have stood by instead of advocating for schools and families.
Here is what Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, Mike Pence, and Mitch McConnell have had to say:
Betsy DeVos, Fox News Sunday, July 12
- “There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous…If schools aren’t going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds.”
DeVos has created more panic for stressed families seeking leadership and assurances that their children can return to school safely by politicizing the reopening of schools.
NEA President Lily Eskelsen García says what’s good for students and school staff has nothing to do with politics and that the safety and well-being of the students and parents is at stake.
Donald Trump, via Twitter, July 8
- “I disagree with [the CDC] on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools. While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!”
The CDC refused to modify what its health experts recommend, and education organizations like NEA are committed to following the science behind their advice.
Vice President Mike Pence, at the Coronavirus Task Force Briefing, July 8
- “The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough.”
NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia has stated 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.”
Betsy DeVos, Coronavirus Task Force Briefing, July 8
- “Ultimately, it’s not a matter of if schools should reopen — it is simply a matter of how.”
NEA has said repeatedly that we’re listening to the medical and public health experts on when it’s safe to go back into buildings and campuses, and that includes pre-school through graduate school. DeVos is failing America’s public schools, students, parents, and educators by rushing to reopen our public schools.
Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican Leader News conference, May 12
- “Can you image the nightmare that could unfold this fall when K-12 kids are still at home, when colleges and universities are still not open?” McConnell told reporters. “That is a scenario that would only be further aggravated in the absence of some kind of liability protection that reassures school administrators that they can actually open up again.”
The reality of reopening school buildings and college campuses is that any missteps could cost lives, particularly among our most vulnerable students. McConnell has put hundreds of thousands of student and educator lives at risk by holding up legislation in the Senate for the past 10 weeks, and now is promoting funding primarily to schools that commit to opening for in-person learning this fall.