As coronavirus cases surged across the nation, even in states with previously few cases, President Donald Trump pushed for schools to reopen for in-person instruction. “Every district should be actively making preparations to open,” Trump said at a coronavirus-focused press conference. “This is about something very, very important. This is not about politics."
Health and medical experts argue that there is still a lot of research to be done on how the virus impacts children and how children spread it, but everyone agrees: there is no evidence to suggest children are immune or can stop the disease. Also, the more widely the virus is spreading in a community, the riskier it is to open schools. There is also the very real danger that while children don’t easily catch the virus, they can bring it home with them and infect their parents and grandparents. According to the July analysis conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, “Roughly 3.3 million adults ages 65 and older live in a household with school-age children.”
As a dedicated member of her community, Rachel is aware of her many tight-knit family units, where
Grandparents are the epicenter of family life. Many of her first-graders have great, connected extended families made up of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. “One of the things I admire most about the families I work with are their strong sense of family and connectedness,” she says. There is also a sense of continuity among generations. Rachel is teaching the children and grandchildren of the children she taught years ago. She often teaches siblings coming from one family, and ends up teaching the children coming from their extended families. After years of teaching, Señora Baucom is seated at the center of their lives.
On the national level, Education Secretary DeVos faced a backlash after demanding schools reopen full-time while the pandemic continued to surge. Or else risk lose your funding, she warned. “There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous,” she said in an interview on Fox News Sunday, July 12.
Trump claimed the administration had a “national strategy” for schools reopening. The White House and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did provide different layers of “guidance” to schools, but they never did release a cohesive federal standard for schools to reopen. The enormous problem of reopening was thrust upon state and local officials to try to figure out. Between Trump’s misguided assurances on safety and the Education Secretary DeVos’s insistence that there is no danger “in any way” if kids are in school, school districts across the country have been thrust into a state of desperate chaos.
Rachel worries about returning to the classroom. Thinking about the dangers and risk of exposure keeps her up at night. She frets that the White House has dumped the problem onto teachers and principals to make it work. She sees the directives made by Trump and Education Secretary DeVos as endangering human lives. She points out that DeVos has no background in education or knowledge about how public schools work, and who is only using her position to dismantle public education. “An educator with lots of experience should have the job.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, asserted that Trump and DeVos are not putting the safety of children and teachers first and criticized their lack of planning and resources offered as some schools are set to open. Weingarten backed her assertion with hard data published last month in a report from the Kaiser Institute. One in four teachers has a condition that puts them at higher risk of serious illness from coronavirus.