Schools are beginning to reopen from the end of summer vacation and despite months of shelter in place and social distancing, school administrators and districts are struggling to formulate plans to re-open schools safely, without clear federal guidelines from the Department of Education and sometimes at odds with state lawmakers. Parents, educators and administrators agree that the abrupt shift to online learning this past spring was not effective, very young and special needs students struggled to adjust to the lack of structure and routine offered by in person instruction and teachers struggled to adjust to the rapidly changing demands of their job. Runaway rates of infection in a majority of states, widespread mask refusal and confirmation that the virus can be aerosolized challenges the wisdom of reopening schools in August and September. Without significant investment of time and resources to reduce infection rates overall and to restructure the school environment, reopening schools safely seems unlikely.
And yet the Trump administration, resisting efforts to fund widespread testing, contact tracing and coordination of PPE production and distribution is demanding that schools reopen this fall for in person instruction without restrictions, and at odds with its own CDC guidelines. While Trump issued an empty threat to withhold funding from schools who refuse to open, a coronavirus relief bill introduced by Senate Republicans would provide school funding, but also requires schools to reopen. Rather than threatening to restrict funding, the federal government should be increasing funding to public schools and coordinating efforts to reduce the spread of coronavirus infections in the community and pave the way for a safe reentry to in-person instruction. Demand that lawmakers provide robust funding and clear guidelines to ensure that schools are safe to reopen.