New CDC guidance is first step, now leaders must make the investments to keep educators and students safe.
CONCORD, NH – New Hampshire educators have gone above and beyond to serve their students these past 11 months and have been very clear in calling for the resources needed to support a safe return to in-person instruction.
CDC science supports what NH educators have said for 11 months: Prioritize the safety of our students and staff by providing them with the resources to do exactly what the CDC has called for – put “all recommended mitigation measures in schools.”
Schools should be the safest place in any community. Now that we have clear CDC guidance, state and local decision makers need to be able to look educators, students, and parents in the eyes and ensure that with full confidence.
“The new CDC guidance is a good first step, but now it’s time for action. If they are applied universally in every community and the resources are put in place equitably for all students, our school buildings will be safe for in-person learning,” said Megan Tuttle, NEA-NH President. “All along we have asked for two things: Follow the science and give us the resources so we can safely get back to in-person instruction.”
The key takeaway from the CDC guidelines is that requirements for mask-wearing and distancing, small class sizes, and robust contact-tracing and isolation, can make in-person learning safer during this pandemic, as long as the necessary funding for these robust mitigation efforts is provided and such efforts are strictly adhered to.
“I want to be clear, with this operational strategy, CDC is not mandating that schools reopen. These recommendations simply provide schools a long-needed roadmap for how to do so safely under different levels of disease in the community,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a news briefing on Friday.
Throughout the pandemic, educators collaborated with administrators and now 80% of NH’s schools have in-person or hybrid learning. But many New Hampshire schools still have severely outdated ventilation systems and lack testing or tracing programs.
“New Hampshire educators have been partnering with administrators from the start of the pandemic to find ways to serve our students,” said Tuttle. “We’ve been adapting, innovating, and showing up for our students every single day — our work has never stopped. Students and their families know this. And if a school building is closed, it’s almost always because of an active COVID case or high community transmission rates.”
Educators and parents have been clear and consistent for 11 months on what is needed: When the proper mitigation precautions are taken and enforced, the data and the science suggests a return to in-person learning may be possible.
Still, many New Hampshire educators feel unsafe about returning to classrooms in districts where the community spread of the virus has not improved since November.
The CDC guidance states that as a “first step in determining when and how to reopen safely involves assessing the level of community transmission. School administrators, working with local public health officials, should assess the level of risk in the community and the likelihood of a case in a school facility, the likelihood that a case would lead to an outbreak, and the consequences of in-school transmission.”
The two most promising developments in the battle against COVID-19 — vaccines and rapid COVID-19 tests — can be gamechangers for safer in-person instruction, and federal and state authorities should make them broadly and equitably available.
CDC guidance states that “teachers and school staff hold jobs critical to the continued functioning of society and are at potential occupational risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2. State officials should consider giving high priority to teachers in early phases of vaccine distribution. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that frontline essential workers, including those who work in the education sector (teachers and school staff), be prioritized for vaccine allocation in phase 1b, following health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities (phase 1a).”
“Nothing in the new guidelines changes our position that it is vital educators be prioritized for vaccinations,” said Tuttle. “Vaccines are not a panacea, but they are a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to safely returning to in-person learning.”
The CDC guidance states that “even after teachers and staff are vaccinated, schools need to continue mitigation measures for the foreseeable future, including requiring masks in schools and physical distancing.”
“It is a shame that there are those who continue to seek to shift blame to educators for closed school buildings. Returning to in-person education is clearly an effort that requires the input and cooperation of community members, students, families, teachers, school staff, school administration and elected officials. We have been suggesting protocols and asking for resources to return to our classrooms for close to a year now. No one wants to return to in-person learning more than the educators who dedicate their lives to help their students succeed,” said Tuttle. “Those trying to pit parents and teachers against each other are seeking to distract attention from their failure to provide the resources needed to keep students and educators safe.”