On June 24, 2020

Teacher’s union issues caution on reopening schools

Vermont-NEA task force outlines comprehensive steps to ensure safety, health, and learning

A group of 25 educators from across the state issued a comprehensive list of requirements that must be met before Vermont students can be safely welcomed back to class.

The Vermont-NEA task force on school reopening met earlier this month to discuss the extensive list of issues that must be addressed as it contemplates a return to in-person instruction in the fall. The meeting was in response to the governor and education secretary definitively announcing that they intend to open Vermont’s schools to in-person instruction this fall on June 10.

Vermont-NEA President Don Tinney called the announcement “unfortunate” because the hard work required to plan for a safe reopening has not been completed. Tinney is a high school English teacher who serves as the elected president of the 13,000-member Vermont-NEA, the largest union in the state of Vermont.

“It is our hope that the ideas and issues generated by this task force are addressed and resolved by public officials making decisions about reopening our schools,” said Tinney. “The voices of educators must be heard as we develop what schools will look like when we reopen. But we cannot reopen schools until the health and safety of students, educators, and parents are assured.”

Assuring a safe reopening requires a thorough and complex evaluation of every aspect of school life, the task force noted. The list of requirements include:

Effective and routine testing for Covid-19;

Appropriate and effective physical distancing;

Re-evaluating food service;

Ensuring school nurses are in every school building;

The mandatory use of personal protective equipment;

Adapting and addressing the academic needs of all students.

For the task force’s full recommendations, visit vtnea.org.

“Nobody wants to be back in school more than the educators of Vermont,” said Tinney. “We understand the economic and political pressure to reopen our schools, but we have to make sure the decision is made with the best, most up-to-date public health science. For schools to reopen, they must be safe for students, parents, and educators.”

“As school reopenings happen slowly in other countries, it is clear that doing so safely and effectively takes the collaboration of many. Educators, parents, administrators, and health experts must work together to map out a statewide plan to reopen schools. The array of factors that must be considered to safely resume in-person instruction is enormous and requires a tremendous amount of work to ensure a safe and effective environment for students, parents, and educators.

“It is unfortunate that Gov. Phil Scott and Education Secretary Dan French chose to make this announcement before the real hard work of planning and preparation has been completed,” Tinney said.

“We have one chance to get this right, and to get it right takes time. Again, there is no place where educators would rather be than in school, teaching and caring for students. But without concrete, health- and science-based protocols that must be followed by every school district, today’s announcement adds even more pressure to folks doing this critical planning,” he added.

Tinney said that the union has assembled a task force of educators to begin exploring how to safely and effectively return to in-person instruction and that the group will continue to work tirelessly.

“Our message is simple: we want schools to reopen,” Tinney said. “But only after the hard work with all stakeholders — parents, educators, and health experts — can we realistically and safely ask our students and educators to resume in-person instruction.”

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