President Donald Trump wants schools to reopen, and cities have put together their own plans for schools reopening.
But has anyone talked to teachers?
“Is it actually safe to reopen schools at this time?” asked Faiza Khalid, 37. Khalid, who teaches technology at PS 36 in District 5 in Manhattan, said that while City Hall may have a plan in place, that doesn’t mean it’s safe.
“Although in New York we have seen significant progress in the control of cases, we have not had enough data since phase 4 of reopening as to how it may impact the spread of the virus,” Khalid said.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an agency the Trump administration forced to give up their COVID-19 stats so the administration can release them to the public on their own, schools should reopen safely because child deaths from the coronavirus are lower than adult deaths.
“The best available evidence indicates if children become infected, they are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms,” read a recently released CDC report emphasizing the importance of reopening schools. “The rates among school-aged children are much lower than among adults. At the same time, the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant.”
In the same report, the CDC also compared COVID-19 to the flu (a point consistently parroted by Trump himself and his supporters).
“Although relatively rare, flu-related deaths in children occur every year,” read the report. “From 2004-2005 to 2018-2019, flu-related deaths in children reported to CDC during regular flu seasons ranged from 37 to 187 deaths. During the H1N1 pandemic (April 15, 2009 to October 2, 2010), 358 pediatric deaths were reported to CDC.”
According to the reference page at the end of the report, these stats were taken from a CDC COVID Data Tracker. Data that the Trump administration released after taking over the CDC’s numbers on COVID-19.
Khalid said that the White House’s motivation for reopening schools is cynical and dangerous to students of color.
“I believe the Trump administration feels that public schools and the teachers and children that attend them should sacrifice their safety to help reopen the economy against the advice of scientists and medical professionals,” said Khalid. “The Trump administration views the public school system as a baby-sitting service to get low and moderate income employees to get back to work. They have not shown any regard for the fact that COVID-19 disproportionately impacts minority students of color in the inner cities of this nation.”
According to a report from the Advanced Materials Processing Research Lab, funded by the Dorsey & Whitney Foundation, Black Americans and Indigenous people who are infected with COVID-19 died at higher rates than other races. Through July 21, 1 in 1,350 Black Americans (73.7 deaths per 1,000) and 1 in 1,650 Indigenous people (60.5 five deaths per 1,000) died after infection. For good measure 1 in 3,100 white Americans (32.4 deaths per 1,000) infected by COVID-19 died, while 1 in 3,250 Asian Americans (30.7 deaths per 1,000) died.
With 66% of New York City public school students being Black or Latino (according to Department of Education data), Khalid believes it’s irresponsible to go forward without a plan that guarantees the safety of teachers and students.
“The majority of the children that would return to school would be the most vulnerable children and their families would be the most at risk of serious COVID-19 related illness,” said Khalid. “In New York City since the schools closed, many sites have been open daily to provide grab and go meals for families in need.”
Some of Khalid’s reasoning is demonstrated in a recent report released by New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams’ office. The report calls for no in-school instruction until October.
Before then, the city should open and expand Regional Enrichment Centers to provide education resources to the city’s most disadvantaged students using what the report called a “pod model” that keeps students in the “same small groupings and the same rooms.”
Williams said that this is the only way school reopenings could work.
“As we work to give our students the best education possible amid the pandemic, our priority has to be on the safety of students and staff, educators and parents,” stated Williams. “Reopening strategies for schools, just as with any other element of reopening, need to be driven by medical science. We can never completely eliminate risk, but this proposal minimizes it to the greatest extent possible while still allowing for some students to resume in-person instruction. As the public health crisis evolves, so too can our response.”
Attempts to contact City Hall and Mayor Bill de Blasio were unsuccessful.
A spokesperson for United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said that the union is doing the best job it can do to help teachers through the process.
“As President Mulgrew told more than 22,000 UFT members on a Town Hall conference call last week, the union is adamant that schools have to be safe—for students and staff—for buildings to reopen,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Another hotspot for the discussion of school reopening can be found in Florida. Because of the lack of social distancing in the state, as of Tuesday, July 28, Florida reported 9,230 more COVID-19 cases with 186 residents’ deaths. The number of reported cases this week added up to 441,977 cases since the first case identified in March.
And yet, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran plan on fully reopening schools despite a 23% increase in hospitalization rates of Floridians 17 and under who have contracted COVID-19.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten blasted the entire Republican agenda and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for not providing enough funds for education in the proposed Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act bill leaving local areas out in the cold and falling short of what schools need to reopen safely if at all.
“The relief McConnell has offered doesn’t match the scale of this crisis,” said Weingarten. “Moreover, it includes no new funding to help states, cities and towns recovering from cratering tax revenues—in contrast to the more than $1 trillion offered in the House-passed HEROES Act. Without some federal aid for state and local budgets, we can expect millions more layoffs, and devastating cuts to the very programs families are relying on, including food assistance, unemployment and health care.”
So, amid all the turmoil, will educators come back? Khalid said that it would require that certain conditions be met.
“Hopefully, when the time comes means, when it’s safe,” Khalid said. “If so, I certainly plan to return when the conditions are safe to do so. I hope that our state and local leaders will cover all grounds to ensure that it is safe for students and teachers to return to school. I can’t wait to see my students back in the classroom learning and this pandemic is just a bad and very distant memory from the past.”