WASHINGTON—In a nationwide survey of nearly 1,200 K-12 educators, paraprofessionals and higher education faculty and staff conducted in June of this year, 76 percent say they’d be comfortable going back to school if key safety precautions are met. The precautions they identify are specific to preventing virus spread, including appropriate physical distancing, adequate ventilation and cleaning, and necessary face coverings and other personal protective equipment. The poll also shows a plurality of educators expect a hybrid model for schools this fall, with 82 percent saying distance learning has not been nearly as effective as face-to-face instruction.
The results of the survey were released on the same day President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos held a public event on reopening schools. They noted that “schools are important for the well-being of students, families and communities,” but offered no details on how to fund the health and safety precautions states and districts will need to reopen safely and prevent the spread of the coronavirus in schools. No one who actually works in a public school classroom spoke at the briefing.
During the event, administration officials acknowledged that states would be implementing their own reopening plans, but they were stunningly silent on how those plans would be funded, despite projections that most states will be looking at a 20 percent decline in tax revenues from coronavirus-related shutdowns. In the AFT poll, educators express concern about that declining revenue, as well as overall concern about the effects of COVID-19: More than 25 percent are teaching at home while also caring for other family members, and more than half are in households that have experienced some kind of job loss or reduction in pay.
While the White House officials continued their pattern of paying lip service to the importance of student success, they failed to acknowledge the administration’s continued attacks on public schools, including how they’ve repeatedly ignored educators’ requests for more information and more resources to navigate this crisis.
In response to the survey results and the White House’s event on school reopening, AFT President Randi Weingarten said:
“Reopening schools doesn’t happen with an all-caps tweet. It happens with careful planning to meets our students’ well-being and academic needs, methodical attention to preventing virus spread in schools, and sufficient federal resources to help us get there. Science and safety come first.
“Last week, Trump was blaming schools for indoctrinating children and teaching students to hate America. And today, days after Joe Biden spoke about the importance of public schools and teachers, the president suddenly changes course and now is concerned about the role of public schools in our kids’ well-being.
“This administration has found handouts for any industry, corporation and CEO that needed it, but now our kids, communities and schools need a hand up. Schools can’t reopen without more resources, more staff, more safety precautions and more space. Trump and DeVos may want to play it fast and loose with the lives of people who go to restaurants and hair salons, but we’re not willing to play it fast and loose with the kids and teachers who go to schools.
“So, as our country navigates this global health crisis and the ensuing economic crisis with a dangerous and divisive president at the helm, we hope he starts listening to educators, parents and students instead of continuing to pit them against each other.”