The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will release new guidelines for reopening schools on Friday. The National Education Association surveyed 3,305 of its members and found 82% have not received the COVID-19 vaccine.
According to CNN, CDC’s key strategies for reopening schools include hand washing, masking, social distancing, cleaning and ventilation, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine. The strategies may be tricky for some schools. There are concerns about access to funding and supplies needed to meet CDC standards in minority communities.
“Most schools, especially those attended by Black, Brown, indigenous, and poor White students have severely outdated ventilation systems and no testing or tracing programs to speak of,” Becky Pringle, NEA President, said.
Pringle believes that funding from federal and local entities will help those in need.
“We need to ensure that we have the additional funds to help our more marginalized students and schools because we’re digging out of a hole here,” Pringle said. “Here we are with outdated ventilation systems — sick buildings — that we want to send kids back into with the coronavirus still raging.”
$170 billion will be distributed to K-12 schools, colleges, and universities if President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief proposal passes through Congress.
“Schools should be the last places closed and the first places open,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC Director, said during a White House briefing. “Our goal is to make sure in getting children back to school that we do so both with the safety of the children and the safety of teachers.”
Dr. Stuart Ray, a John Hopkins University professor of medicine in infectious diseases, told CNN that testing is a valuable tool and that there are risks involved with reopening schools before everyone has been vaccinated.
“It does make a big difference to do some testing and not just symptom-based screening, particularly when children are less likely to be symptomatic than adults,” Dr. Ray said. “We need some guidance about how to factor in effective PPE, so that people who are not vaccinated can still be safe — as we demonstrated health care workers could be in 2020, before a vaccine was available.”
Dr. Ray believes that controlling the virus outside of schools is an effective way to keep students, teachers, and staff safe inside schools.
“If people are really careful about masking and distancing outside of schools, then the schools become safer,” Dr. Ray said.
Some public health experts believe that the White House sent conflicting signals about when and how schools will reopen. White House press secretary Jen Psaki pushed back on Walensky when she shared that a CDC study identified schools as low-transmission zones for COVID-19 and that teachers could return to school before they’ve been vaccinated.
“I found that worrisome because we have to affirm and assert CDC’s expertise here. It’s a particularly tricky issue and it’s important to be clear that there is no political interference and that there is no agency more qualified to weigh in on this more than the CDC,” Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security, said.
Some unions have said that teachers do not want to return to classrooms until they’ve been vaccinated. California Governor Gavin Newsom and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot believe that the unions have unrealistic demands.
“The administration seems to be trying to balance providing consistency for students by opening schools — a relief to some parents — and the valid concerns from teachers and their unions to make sure their safety is a priority before returning to the classroom,” Basil Smikle, former executive director of the New York Democratic Party, said.
“The president has set some aggressive goals for getting students back to school, and I’m sure there will be some tough conversations among the president’s advisers about how best to do that,” Joel Payne, a Democratic strategist, said. “But I still think the public understands the overall position and objective of the Biden administration is to reopen schools as soon and as safely as possible.”