The CDC’s recent release concludes that the current data indicate it is possible to safely reopen schools – a sentiment NEA-NH has shared for close to a year now – if the proper protocols and precautions are followed by everyone involved.
Sadly, this has not been the case in many of our schools.
The CDC acknowledges that the lowest risk scenario for transmission is students and educators engaged in virtual-only classes, activities, and events. Higher risks occur with the increased personal contact associated with in-person instruction and activities, and larger class sizes.
The CDC recommends that these risks can be mitigated if students, teachers, and staff follow all steps to protect themselves and others at all times – including the proper use of correctly fitting face masks, social distancing, hand hygiene, as well as regularly scheduled and consistent (i.e., at least daily or between uses) cleaning of frequently touched areas and items.
We have always believed that remote instruction should be used in the absence of a safe school environment, if it is found that a safe school environment cannot be established, or if local health conditions change in such a way that requires school be closed. A position that is also in compliance with CDC guidelines.
Safely reopening schools means creating and maintaining safe school environments – from student pick-up and arrival to dismissal for the day. This requires additional funding and staff, smaller classes, more bus capacity to enable physical distancing, more nurses and counselors and Education Support Professionals to address student needs. It also requires an unwavering commitment to supply students and all employees with the appropriate PPE and following health and safety protocols.
The CDC also supports what has long been our position that every school should have a thorough air quality evaluation prior to any return to full-time in-person instruction. We maintain that schools with HVAC systems that do not meet American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning standards are considered unsafe and shall not be occupied by students or staff, and that ongoing air quality evaluations will be performed to assure continued compliance.
We have been fortunate the number of students and educators who have become seriously ill from COVID seems small. Transmission has been slowed because schools have been closed, and when they have reopened, many did so using hybrid models – again, reducing in-person interaction.
We believe it is dangerous to assume the CDC’s statement regarding reopening schools means the ‘all clear’ has been sounded. As the CDC states, “in order to reach the goal of reopening schools as safely and as quickly as possible for in-person learning, and help schools remain open, it is important to adopt and diligently implement actions to slow the spread of COVID-19 inside the school and out in the community.” This requires a level of commitment and funding we have yet to see.