The president of the National Education Association says schools need federal guidance in order to reopen safely.
The president of the National Education Association said Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are standing in the way of safely reopening public schools.
"There's a way to do this right and there's the way Donald Trump is saying to do it, which puts people in danger," Lily Eskelsen García said in a phone interview on Thursday.
Eskelsen García noted that Trump has called on the nation to reopen its public schools, which are currently shuttered to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but has not offered a plan on how to do so safely. "Trump said, 'Just open them,'" she observed, "but didn't say, 'Here's the resources we'll give public schools to do it safely.'"
"And Mitch McConnell is putting people in danger by sitting on the HEROES Act," Eskelsen García said.
The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, passed by the House of Representatives in May, would provide $3 trillion in funding to address the economic crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, including about $1 trillion in direct aid to state and local governments.
As a sixth-grade teacher, Eskelsen García said, she has seen firsthand that classrooms are closed areas with "sneezing kids who on their best day have runny noses" and spread germs widely. Without clear guidance and funding, she believes, it sounds like politicians want to "sacrifice the kids" and "warehouse them so the parents can get back to work."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month released strict safety guidelines for dining establishments to reopen, spelling out face mask use, cleaning protocols, distancing requirements, and appropriate ventilation systems. But Eskelsen García that said leaked CDC guidelines for reopening schools were not nearly as specific.
"People who looked at that went, 'Oh crap, we'd have to hire and train more school janitors [for] disinfecting [and socially distance] kids in overcrowded germ factories.'" she said. Meanwhile, school systems are facing a significant financial crunch caused by the economic meltdown.
With more than 20 million Americans out of work and businesses closing, state and local revenues have dropped significantly since the start of the pandemic. Around the country, Eskelsen García said, school boards are meeting on Zoom and saying, "We're gonna have to cut 30% out of school budgets."
Those cuts could result in far fewer teachers and larger class sizes at a time when social distancing mean kids need to be kept physically separated.
"The HEROES Act would stop the bleeding of the school budgets, which are patients bleeding in triage. It could be the tourniquet to stop it," Eskelsen García said. But, she noted, McConnell has called the bill "dead on arrival" in the Senate.
"Shame on him!" Eskelsen García said.
McConnell has ridiculed the proposal as "not serious" and has refused to bring it up for a vote. He instead suggested states in financial distress consider filing for bankruptcy, which legally they are not allowed to do.
Trump has also dismissed the bill as "D.O.A., dead on arrival."
Trump has been criticized for lack of guidance at the federal level throughout the pandemic. "We don't have a single point of leadership right now for this response, and we don't have a master plan for this response. So those two things are absolutely critical," Department of Health and Human Services whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright told Congress last month.
Eskelsen García said that reopening the schools without ample staffing and safety guidelines is a non-starter for school employees and families. "If one more politician says, 'Open the schools' without saying how to open them safely, they're gonna be hearing not only from educators but pretty angry parents," she warned.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.