When schools across the country were forced to close in the spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents struggled to balance working from home while trying either homeschool their children or help them stay on top of their online learning.
As families struggled through the latter part of the school year, one thing kept them going: things will be better in the fall, and our kids will be able to go back to school.
As we enter what would normally be the final weeks of summer vacation, however, the coronavirus situation in many states has only gotten worse. Parents, teachers, and school board trustees are now in a panic as states begin making plans for schools reopening, wondering how they’re going to get kids back in classrooms safely- or if that’s even possible.
As a new school year approaches, school districts everywhere are struggling to figure out how they’re going to set up schools for socially distanced learning. Teachers are fearing becoming infected as they are forced to manage classrooms full of dozens of students, and parents are terrified that their child could end up contracting the coronavirus.
Parents, despite their concerns over sending their children back to school, are also concerned that they will have to resume their role as employee, parent, and teacher, and how the plan to reopen schools will affect their imminent return to work.
Teachers unions in Fairfax, Virginia, are speaking out, saying that the teachers are not comfortable returning to schools, and they’re encouraging their members to state their preference to return to online learning until they have more information for how schools will be reopened safely.
Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union, says that there’s no plan in place for many school districts.
Eskelsen Garcia says she is being bombarded with questions asking her how they’re going to go about reopening schools.
“We’re worried that school districts will give in to a politician or some business that wants their workers freed up to come back and work in a factory somewhere, and that then they will be forced to open unsafe schools,” she explained .
According to one poll, 54 percent of Americans said they are uncomfortable with public schools reopening for the beginning of the upcoming school year .
Many people are taking to social media to express their concerns.
“Anyway my mom (a public school teacher) will probably have to go back to work full time in august and i wanna sucker punch @NC_Governor rn for not immediately making all classes remote for public schools and putting both my little brother’s life and my mom’s life at risk,” said another .
One parent took to twitter to express her frustration over how working parents are supposed to return to work while their kids may still be at home.
“A rant: The NYC DOE is expected to follow CDC guidelines requiring each student to have 65sq. ft. of classroom space, which means my kids will go to school 1 of every 3 weeks this fall. Adults, however, are supposed to be back to work as the economy “reopens.”” 
Guidelines for Schools Reopening
The CDC has put together a list of guidelines together to address the safe reopening of schools. They separate returning to school into three levels of risk:
- Lowest Risk: Students and teachers engage in virtual-only classes, activities, and events.
- More Risk: Small, in-person classes, activities, and events. Groups of students stay together and with the same teacher throughout/across school days and groups do not mix. Students remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects (e.g., hybrid virtual and in-person class structures, or staggered/rotated scheduling to accommodate smaller class sizes).
- Highest Risk: Full sized, in-person classes, activities, and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies, and mix between classes and activities.
The guidelines also include promoting behaviours that help reduce the spread of the virus, including having all staff or students stay home if they are sick or if they have recently had contact with a person with COVID-19, practicing proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette (such as coughing or sneezing into a tissue), and requiring all students and staff to wear face coverings.
Schools should also provide adequate supplies to support healthy hygiene behaviour, like soap and hand sanitizer, and having enough signs posted in visible locations reminding staff and students to do their part to stop the spread.
The guidelines go on to list a number of recommendations for how schools can maintain healthy environments, including cleaning and disinfecting, ventilation, and physical barriers, as well as strategies for maintaining healthy operations like identifying small groups and keeping them together, staggering scheduling, and providing staff training.
Finally, the guidelines provide an action plan that includes the appropriate steps that should be taken in the event that someone in the school gets sick .
Disregarding CDC Guidelines
Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of a school superintendents association, says that some districts are planning on reopening schools in such a way that “almost totally” disregards the guidelines set out by the CDC.
“A lot of states along the Southern belt are just planning to move ahead with, all students, all come, and to me, that is going to be a horror,” he said .
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has offered little to no guidance for school districts, and many are saying that the patchwork of approaches across the country are going to leave many students at a disadvantage.
“We sent a bipartisan letter to her asking for guidance and we’ve gotten radio silence in response,” said Democrat Josh Harder of California in a statement. “Teachers and parents need to know what the fall is going to look like and how we’re going to keep our kids safe. We need answers.” 
Jeanne Allen, the founder and chief executive of the Center for Education Reform, however, argues that the most important officials to be listening to at this time are public health officials, and that the Department should be available simply to answer questions, provide ideas or suggestions based on what they’re seeing from around the country, and to distribute funds.
A spokesperson for DeVos said that they are leaving it up to state and local authorities to take the lead on reopening guidance, and the department will continue to provide them with resources to “make the next best decisions”.
Ongoing outbreaks in many states across the country are upending reopening plans, and teachers, parents, and children are fearing for their lives and for the lives of others. Eskelsen Garcia says that they are concerned everywhere, and there’s nowhere where people are just breathing a sigh of relief and this is all over .
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