The NAACP New York State Conference has outlined several questions and concerns they have about the reopening of New York City schools:
1). In what ways does this plan meet the health guidelines set forth by the Center for Disease Control?
2). Who are the entities and health experts who you have consulted with while developing your plan?
3). What specific procedures have been put in place to implement testing, and tracing among children, teachers, and staff? How will visitors to the buildings be monitored?
4). What are the provisions for children, teachers, and staff who have either tested positive for the virus or been exposed to the virus? How long must they be quarantined before returning to school? Will the permanent and per diem substitute teachers, teaching assistants, staff not covered by the union or healthcare be tested and be provided the same healthcare screenings and protection as regular teachers?
5). Health studies indicate that children and adults can be asymptomatic and that temperature checks are NOT the best indicator of illness in this case. What is the plan for monitoring asymptomatic, children, and staff?
6). How often will testing take place, and who is responsible for testing staff, teachers, students?
7). In addition to committing to having a nurse at each school, there needs to be a resource person managing the guidance regarding testing, tracing, referrals and follow-up. Who will be responsible for this at each school?
8). Who will be monitoring and following up on student absences, reasons for absences, and truant students?
9). The science has demonstrated that coronavirus can spread through droplets in the air (i.e. from breathing, talking, sneezing, singing, etc.) as well as through dust particles; this is why it is incredibly important to enforce mask-wearing for all students and staff, social distancing, and provide for air filtration for all districts equitably. It is not safe until, at the very least, all issues regarding the transmission of droplets in closed spaces and poorly ventilated spaces and on transportation are addressed for the safety of all students, faculty, administration, staff, and families concerned. Many schools’ HVAC systems have needed to be repaired and upgraded to include HEPA air filters. Wealthier districts have been able to make the decision to go onto remote learning until their systems are upgraded. These challenges and inequalities prompt questions:
a). Will there be a mandate for every person to wear a mask? How will you enforce this?
b). Will masks be provided to all children and personnel?
c). How will droplet formation be controlled during unmasked breaks and lunchtime to protect the students, teachers, and staff?
d). How will you provide for the need for upgrading HVAC systems to provide fresh air indoors, air conditioning and HEPA air filtration to remove the virus from the air, especially in buildings that are in disrepair (especially in districts that do not have the funding)? We cannot ignore the science. (See the attached article regarding air circulation/ filtration, and ventilation. This article is just one of many that confirms this research; this issue deserves heightened priority for the foreseeable future.)
10). The safety, security, and affordability of transportation is especially important to ensure our students have equal access to education. What alternatives are being provided to students who previously used school buses, trains, or subways? How can transportation remain socially distanced? What transportation accommodations are being made for special needs students? How will the buses manage to control the virus and upgrade their air circulation systems and sanitization? Will the bus drivers also be tested and protected? If school bus contracts are canceled, are new contracts with rider-share companies being explored?
11). What are the logistics involved in remote learning for teachers and students? How do we ensure access to technology and the internet is equitable for all students? Will access to tablets and WiFi support for students be available? What products will be utilized? (Apple products? Chromebooks?) What accommodations are being made for students struggling with homelessness or in families facing eviction?
12). What social, emotional, and mental support systems will be in place for students, staff, and families struggling with illness or loss of life?
Hazel Dukes, President of the NAACP New York State Conference.