A day before the Texas Education Agency is scheduled to release further guidance about the coming school year, the American Federation of Teachers and its Texas division are demanding the state require every school district to submit a detailed reopening plan outlining how they will safeguard students and staff from the spread of COVID-19.
Gov. Greg Abbott said last week that students will be returning to the classroom in the fall. That news was followed by the TEA’s announcement that school districts will not be required to mandate that schoolchildren wear masks or be tested for COVID-19 symptoms.
“The safe re-opening of Texas schools can’t be done on a wing and a prayer, but that’s exactly what will happen if masks, testing and other necessary precautions aren’t required,” said AFT President Zeph Capo in a news release on Monday.
Capo shared how highly concerned educators and parents are about reopening the right way and with precautions in an email to Reform Austin on Monday.
“They don’t want school buildings to become the next hot zones. If reopening involves using school buildings, every school district should be required to spell out how they will ensure safety, using science and federal guidelines as guidance. All of this takes funding.”
“Texas is still holding most of the state’s allocation of $1.2 billion appropriated by Congress for school districts to mitigate the unbudgeted expenses from COVID-19,” Capo added. “That money should be distributed, and Governor Abbott should call on the U.S. Senate to pass the HEROES Act so that states and municipalities get at least the same financial consideration as the private sector did in both CARES Acts.”
The AFT proposes that each school district’s reopening plan be framed using the five pillars of the AFT’s “A Plan to Safely Reopen America’s Schools and Communities:”
- Maintain physical distance until the number of new cases decline for at least 14 consecutive days.
- Put in place the infrastructure and resources to test, trace and isolate new cases.
- Deploy public health tools that prevent the spread of the virus, and align them with educational strategies that meet the needs of students.
- Involve workers, unions, parents and the community in all reopening planning.
- Invest in public health and in schools so that America’s communities and their futures are not abandoned.
As Reform Austin reported, the TEA has ordered millions of pieces of personal protective equipment for Texas school districts for the 2020-2021 school year, but that has not alleviated the concerns.
Capo said because of massive education budget cuts, tackling physical distancing, masks and everything else that a district deems necessary to safely open will take funding and thoughtful precautions.
“We’re still learning how this virus spreads in young people and still figuring out the best ways to protect educators who have kept our students safe and engaged through remote learning for the last three months. A rushed reopening without preventions says: Your health and safety don’t matter,” Capo said.