Op-Ed: Submitted by Mass. Superintendent’s Office
Safely Reopening America’s Schools and Communities
The AFT’s flexible blueprint for imagining a new normal for public education, public health and our society
Until a vaccine is developed for COVID-19, each community is going to need support in charting a path to safely and responsibly reopen school buildings and other institutions crucial to the well-being and economic vitality of our communities.
The AFT’s detailed, science-based “Plan to Safely Reopen America’s Schools and Communities” features five core pillars based on the science as well as educator and healthcare expertise—not on politics or wishful thinking.
To gradually reopen, we need to:
1. Maintain physical distancing until the number of new cases declines for at least 14 consecutive days. Reducing the number of new cases is a prerequisite for transitioning to reopening plans on a community-by-community basis.
2. Put in place the infrastructure and resources to test, trace and isolate new cases. Transitioning from community-focused physical distancing and stay-in-place orders to case-specific interventions requires ramping up the capacity to test, trace and isolate each new case.
3. Deploy the public health tools that prevent the virus’ spread and align them with education strategies that meet the needs of students.
4. Involve workers, unions, parents and communities in all planning. Each workplace and community faces unique challenges related to COVID-19. To ensure that reopening plans address those challenges, broad worker and community involvement is necessary. They must be engaged, educated and empowered.
5. Invest in recovery: Do not abandon America’s communities or forfeit America’s future. These interventions will require more—not less—investment in public health and in our schools, universities, hospitals, and local and state governments. Strengthening communities should be a priority in the recovery.
The blueprint acknowledges Americans’ eagerness to return to some semblance of “normal.” But to do so, we must meet an unprecedented challenge: figuring out how to reimagine our society and the physical places we hold dear—public schools, places of worship, workplaces, restaurants and more—in ways that put our ultimate priorities first: the safety and well-being of working families, especially frontline workers, and the economic health of society.
The comprehensive document shows how, to effectively respond to the crisis, we must plan and align logistics, educational strategies and public health approaches into one coherent response. And we expect the plan to evolve as the data, and the facts, change.
AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “Our blueprint serves as a stark contrast to the conflicting guidance, bluster and lies of the Trump administration. The input of educators and healthcare workers, as well as parents, is crucial in making any reopening plan work. They are the eyes and ears, and are indispensable in making any plan work safely and effectively. We hope this blueprint will be the start of a real discussion on reopening schools, universities and other workplaces that allows our workers and families not only to dream of a safe and welcoming future, but to realize it.”
The plan can be read at https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/covid19_reopen-america-schools.pdf .