Parents, teachers challenge school reopening decisions

Table of Contents

Dive Brief:

  • Parents and teachers are pushing back in some districts that have decided to reopen in August with in-person instruction as the Trump administration mounts pressure for a full in-person reopening. 
  • Arlington Public Schools in Virginia, for example, has announced it will offer hybrid and full-time virtual instruction, but parents in the district sent a letter to the school board and Superintendent Francisco Durán requesting a fully virtual model instead. Their online petition request reached 2,071 signatures as of Monday evening. 
  • In Texas, the Houston Federation of Teachers called Houston Independent School District’s plan “unacceptably vague and hardly adequate,” releasing its own reopening plan. “We won’t be bullied into reopening schools prematurely and dangerously,” said Andy Dewey, the teacher union’s executive vice president, in a statement.

Dive Insight:

Districts are contending with sometimes contradicting views from parents, teachers, students and state and federal leaders as they plan for the 2020-21 school year. Recent surveys have shown both parents and teachers are worried about reopening too soon, while the White House and some state governments are pushing schools to open their doors in the fall. 

According to a May survey released by the University of Phoenix, 53% of parents surveyed said they were uneasy with the idea of their child attending school or daycare in person. In a more recent survey from the online postsecondary provider, 70% of parents reportedly used negative words, such as “worried” or “nervous,” to describe sending their children back to school or daycare.

Meanwhile, the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, National Parent Teacher Association, Council of Administrators of Special Education, National Association of Secondary School Principals, and National Association of State Directors of Special Education challenged President Donald Trump’s push to reopen last week.

To safely re-open our schools, health experts should be relied on to figure out the ‘when’ and educators and parents should be central to figuring out the ‘how,'” the organizations said in a joint statement. “Public school educators, students and parents must have a voice in critical conversations and decisions on reopening schools.” 

Some states that began reopening for business are rolling back on that decision, impacting the probability schools in those places will reopen with in-person instruction. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, for example, announced Monday he would backtrack earlier guidance to reopen the state, and the state’s two largest districts, the Los Angeles and San Diego Unified School Districts, decided to remain closed in the fall with an online-only learning model. The move goes against the push from Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to reopen in the fall. 

Other organizations are also distancing themselves from the White House’s position. The American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization whose stance favoring in-person instruction was heavily cited in the Trump administration’s push to reopen schools, clarified its opinion in a joint statement with the AFT, NEA and AASA, the School Superintendents Association. 

“Returning to school is important for the healthy development and well-being of children, but we must pursue reopening in a way that is safe for all students, teachers and staff,” AAP said in the statement. “Local school leaders, public health experts, educators and parents must be at the center of decisions about how and when to reopen schools, taking into account the spread of COVID-19 in their communities and the capacities of school districts to adapt safety protocols to make in-person learning safe and feasible.” 

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