By Amanda Menas
No one wants to be back in the classroom with our students more than educators. But it is because they care deeply about their students, schools, and communities that educators want to do this right. That means making the health and safety of students, families, and educators the primary driver of decisions about reopening school buildings.
The Trump administration is more focused on how to divert public school dollars to private schools than how to provide personal protective equipment and guidance to the public schools that nearly 51 million American students attend.
NEA signed a letter with six groups representing America’s educators and parents to the Trump administration telling them that they have failed to address the needs of students. Trump’s new push to open schools shows he’s learned nothing from calamities sparked by his demands for premature state openings.
NEA educators heard more thoughtful comments about how to reopen schools safely during a 30-minute conversation with Joe Biden on July 3 during the virtual Representative Assembly (RA) than we have heard over the last five months from Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos.
Now, Joe Biden has released a “Roadmap for reopening schools,” which NEA President Lily Eskelsen García applauded.
“Joe Biden is again showing the nation what leadership looks like, laying out his roadmap to reopening schools safely that is grounded in science and puts the wellbeing of students and educators first. Biden is listening to parents and educators across the nation about how to reopen schools safely, while listening to the doctors and local public health officials to determine when and where it is safe to reopen school buildings,” said García.
Here are a few examples of the stark difference between how Joe Biden and Donald Trump see the crisis and how we should respond to it:
Trump says COVID-19 is a hoax; Biden wants to bring it under control
Trump has told the nation, COVID is “a hoax,” that it “will disappear,” that we should all take hydroxychloroquine against the advice of doctors–who cautioned that it cannot cure COVID but it can kill you–and then suggested injecting bleach might be effective.
To reopen schools safely, rates of infection and hospitalization need to decrease significantly. To make that a reality, Biden plans to implement nationwide testing and tracing, including doubling the number of testing sites; establish a sustainable supply chain for PPE, including fully utilizing the Defense Production Act to ensure enough masks for every school in America every day; protect older Americans and others at high risk; and provide small businesses with the resources they need to reopen safely.
Trump put himself first; Biden will empower educators and local decision-makers
The Trump administration’s chaotic, politicized response has left school districts to improvise a
thousand hard decisions on their own. He pushed for the White House to release a flimsy flowchart of watered down CDC guidelines on the reopening of school buildings, and has made reckless decisions from holding indoor rallies to demanding churches reopen, causing cases to spike. Will he do the same with our schools?
Biden will task the CDC to establish criteria that local officials can use to guide reopening decisions in their communities. He knows that educators, the professionals who know the names of the students in their classroom, should be listened to in order to best know how to handle reopening, not Betsy DeVos who has zero qualifications. Instead of pressuring schools in areas with high levels of COVID-19 community spread to reopen, Biden has said that his administration would: meet emergency funding needs so that schools have the resources to reconfigure classrooms, improve ventilation, and take other necessary steps; provide access to PPE for every student and educator every day, if they require it; and ensure reasonable accommodations have been made for at-risk educators and students. Biden would also require state and local officials to have shared a plan for regularly communicating about school decisions and resources with parents, educators, and the community, prior to schools reopening, and for the federal government to issue reopening guidelines, free from political interference.
Trump threatened to remove funding from schools that don’t reopen; Biden will provide emergency funding for public schools and child care providers
Schools urgently need emergency financial support, but all they have gotten from Trump is bluster and bullying – and worse, threats to further slash their funding. Trump wrote on Twitter. “The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!” His education secretary Betsy DeVos echoed him, saying on Fox News Sunday, “If schools aren’t going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds.”
As President, Joe Biden will put our children, educators, and families first. He believes public schools – especially Title I schools- should have all the resources they need to safely return to in-person instruction and support all students. Biden is calling on Trump and Senate Republicans to pass the HEROES Act, which contains much needed funding for schools; and calling on Congress to pass a separate emergency package to ensure schools have the additional resources they need to adapt effectively to COVID-19.
Trump has failed educators and students; Biden will ensure high-quality learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic
As a result of Trump’s failure to lead, states are facing drastic budget shortfalls. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 900,000 educator jobs have already been lost and another 2 million are at risk, including teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, and school psychologists, who will be desperately needed during the pandemic. Additionally, there is not a single educator on the White House task force focused on reopening the American economy. This means that 51 million public school students and 3.5 million public school educators do not have an advocate in the White House for what they need to be safe as school buildings reopen.
Biden would mobilize large-scale efforts by the U.S. Department of Education, CDC, and National Institutes of Health to work with practitioners to develop, adopt, and share the latest tools and best practices to ensure high-quality learning during this pandemic. These resources would include information for educators, parents, caregivers, and students to adjust to remote and hybrid learning during the pandemic. Efforts would put a special emphasis on students with disabilities, English-language learners, and students who do not have access to technology, in addition to educators and students who are in a high risk group of becoming extremely ill from COVID-19 or live with a family member who is.
Trump has targeted students of color during the pandemic, Biden will close the education opportunity gaps highlighted by COVID-19
Families of color and low-income families have been hit hardest, both in terms of infection rate and economic ramifications, such as job loss and pay cuts. Children in these families often do not have the resources to support digital learning and the interruption to learning can be severe. . However, Trump continuously jeopardizes the lives of these Americans by threatening to withhold money from communities and schools in order to protect corporations and play politics. The country desperately needs national leadership to provide federal financial assistance to states that are gearing up to slash billions from education spending. Those cuts will deeply hurt students, educators, and their families—and will only worsen the fallout of this economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
As president, Biden will direct a White House-led initiative to identify evidence-based policy solutions that address gaps in learning, mental health, social and emotional well-being, and systemic racial and socioeconomic disparities in education exacerbated by the pandemic. He plans to launch a COVID-19 Educational Equity Gap Challenge Grant to encourage states – in partnership with the education and broader innovation community – to develop bold plans that adopt these policy recommendations and give all of our students the support they need to succeed. Additionally, Biden has laid out a plan to support and expand resources for community schools, which work to identify families’ unmet needs and provide holistic services that are especially critical during and after COVID-19.