School Reopening Guidelines from the Country’s Largest Professional Union of Educators

Living Local

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — As states begin to ease stay-at-home restrictions in response to COVID-19, the country’s largest union of educators has released its national guidelines for returning to schools.

The National Education Association President – Lily Eskelsen Garcia joined us on Living Local to discuss the recommendations and echo the sentiments of its members that educators around the country want to be in schools with their students, but the health and safety of students remain the #1 priority.

Garcia discussed how if the economic damage wrought by the coronavirus pandemic isn’t answered with immediate, additional funding for states and localities, the United States is projected to lose 1.9 million education jobs— approximately one-fifth of the workforce that powers public schools and public colleges and universities — according to a new analysis by the National Education Association.

Experts warn the looming cuts not only will impact the educators who receive those pink slips and their families; it also will profoundly impact the 51 million students who attend public schools and their families, especially low-income and communities of color. The bleak economic outlook comes as school districts and campuses struggle with how to return to in-person education as those plans require more staffing and more resources — not less.

“The American economy cannot recover if schools can’t reopen, and we cannot properly reopen schools if funding is slashed and students don’t have what they need to be safe, learn and succeed,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “Communities and families across the nation are feeling firsthand the pain of this economic crisis. Congress must put aside partisanship and take immediate action to save millions of jobs and ensure students don’t pay the price if states are forced to make deeps cuts to education funding.”

The U.S. House of Representatives has done its part, swiftly passing the HEROES Act (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions) on May 15. The bill includes $915 billion in direct relief for state and local governments that can be used to pay vital workers such as educators. It also includes $90 billion in additional education funding to support students and to help save educator jobs.

Now the fate of desperate economic relief is up to the Senate. If the Senate provided at least what the House did for education stabilization funds, more than 800,000 education jobs could be saved — more than 673,000 K-12 and 153,000 higher ed jobs — the NEA data shows. But clearly, even more than that is needed. Despite a bipartisan call for this economic relief, the HEROES Act has stalled in the Senate. As states attempt creating plans to safely reopen schools and universities this fall, students are stuck in limbo.

Budget cuts disproportionately will affect students of color, who are more likely to attend schools that rely on federal Title I funding to lower class sizes, provide free- and reduced-lunch programs, protect fine arts, and offer other education specialists. These services and school personnel are now on the chopping block as states grapple with budgets that are now in the red.

“The coronavirus pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the inequities facing our most vulnerable students,” added Eskelsen García. “Families of color and those in lower-income brackets have been hit hardest by the pandemic, both in terms of infection rates and in terms of economic ramifications such as job loss and pay cuts. We are seeing an increase in food insecurity and mental health needs, as well as compounded learning losses due to the digital divide among our black and brown students. It is a colossal crisis.”

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