By PAULA HERBART/President – Michigan Education Association
As we approach the start of a school year like no other, teachers and education support professionals are feeling scared and angry.
Scared because of unknown consequences of returning to classrooms without clear answers about COVID-19 health and safety — because, frankly, the experts don’t have those answers about a disease we’re still learning to fight.
Angry because they hear national “leaders” like President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos demand that schools reopen regardless of the science, falsely claiming kids don’t get sick and “are virtually immune” to the coronavirus.
When Trump posted that misinformation last week on Facebook, it was removed for containing “false claims about a group of people immune to the coronavirus.” Twitter removed Trump’s post as “COVID-19 misinformation.”
The truth — the science — tells us that kids do get sick, and kids have died, albeit in smaller numbers. A recent study shows kids age 10 and above transmit the virus as easily as adults. A statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics revealed that in the last two weeks of July, nearly 100,000 children in the U.S. tested positive for the coronavirus.
When students get sick, the four million adults who educate them in our nation’s schools — as well as families back home — are in danger of contracting the virus, especially those who have underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk.
Educators and parents in Michigan and across the country are pleading with political leaders to listen to public health experts, heed the science and put safety first.
Just last week, Michigan’s top health official, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, said the best things schools with in-person classes can do to limit the spread of COVID-19 is wear masks, saying, “I encourage every school superintendent who is developing plans for in person instruction to mandate masks for children of all ages, even in a classroom setting.”
The Michigan Education Association is on record that mask-wearing for all ages should be required for in-person learning, as well as other “strongly recommended” practices outlined for Phase 4 of the Return to School Roadmap. But those safety measures need to be funded.
As professional educators, we are engaged in a two-front war: the battle against the virus, and the battle to obtain funding to ensure safety in our schools.
If anyone needed proof that our democracy is broken, they need look no further than Washington, D.C. With the lives of students, educators and their families at stake, lawmakers seem unable to reach agreement on funding to protect them.
In Washington, President Donald Trump and U.S. Senate Republicans responded to the House-passed HEROES Act (which included billions to help schools address this pandemic) with proposals that contained no school funding. Zero.
Without additional federal support, many Michigan school districts will struggle to keep students and educators safe. Reopening schools is one thing; keeping them open is another major obstacle, as schools in Indiana, Georgia and other states have realized.
With just days before the start of the school year, Michigan legislators passed bipartisan legislation to bring certainty and flexibility for schools regarding student count and testing — a step in the right direction. Now we need the federal government to step up and provide the necessary funding.
Regardless of what actions are taken in D.C., the MEA has communicated a clear message to our members: If our locals are not being heeded in their calls for safety first for their students, colleagues and families when it comes to returning to school this fall, we will use the collective strength of our union to defend them publicly and, if necessary, through legal action.
We have their backs.
Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association.