A statement of concerns follows from Tracey-Ann Nelson, executive director of the Arkansas Education Association, on a day when Governor Hutchinson said the state would forge ahead, if 10 days later than expected on in-person school and leave it to local school districts to be adequately prepared.
It was a day, too, when Little Rock School District parents were stunned that the state-run school district said masks would not be mandatory in classrooms. (Once again the question: Does the governor give a **** about people in the Little Rock School District?)
No one wants students to safely return to classrooms more than parents, educators and administrators. However, we can’t allow this common desire to place our children, educators and their families at risk.
Today’s announcement of a delayed start date is a step in the right direction of acknowledging Arkansas is in no way ready to safely reopen our schools.
The state’s guidance on outbreaks in our schools is acknowledgment that we are attempting to send students and educators into an unsafe situation. This danger is compounded by the states’ lack of coordinated guidance to districts as they attempt to plan amid constantly changing guidelines that have somehow become politicized.
While some decisions may be more appropriately made at a local level, this virus does not know school district boundaries. There must be a detailed statewide plan that anticipates a number of scenarios to ensure student and school employee health and safety.
We must at least ensure social distancing, rigorous cleaning and disinfecting standards, PPE, rapid testing and contact tracing, and access to internet and devices for all students. Educators are known for dipping into their own pockets to ensure students’ needs are met, but they cannot be expected to cover the cost of this crisis. Students, educators, and their families need funding from policymakers to make safe school and campus reopening a reality.
Unfortunately, in addition to shifting responsibility to districts, our state officials have also given these districts the ability to cut out teachers and support staff from the decision-making process through a series of statewide waivers.
As the people who deal most closely with our kids’ day in and day out, our educators must be included in any decisions about how we safely reopen our schools.
Last month, the National Education Association released “All Hands on Deck: Initial Guidance Regarding Reopening School Buildings.” Built around four basic principles – health expertise, educator voice, access to protection, and leading with equity – the document lays out what schools need to do to prepare for reopening.
We expect administrators, school boards, parents, medical experts, local community and business organizations will be able to work together to open schools as soon as possible, as safely as possible, but the state must take a more realistic position on when and how that will be possible.