Going back to school in the middle of a COVID-1
Shari Obrenski, a high school teacher in Cleveland, typically spends about $ 500 each year on paper, pencils, markers and tissues for her classroom.
This year, her list of school includes hand sanitizers, wet wipes and disinfectant sprays – which Obrenski can not find in stores. She hopes the Cleveland Metropolitan School District can get them.
“Opening safely across the country will cost billions of dollars,” said Obrenski, who is also president of the Cleveland Teachers Union.
Cleveland schools will be online during the first quarter of the school year following an increase in COVID-19 cases in the area.
As growing infections put the first day of school in limbo across the country, school districts are trying to make sure they have enough cleaning supplies, masks and other protective equipment to put students and staff back safely.
“There is an expectation for school districts to figure this out on their own in this way,” said Elleka Yost, government affairs and communications director for the Association of School Business Officials International. “It is unfortunate because we are not only dealing with an economic issue, but also with a global pandemic.”
However, many state governments provide assistance, in some cases distributing equipment obtained from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
On Wednesday afternoon, President Donald Trump announced that the federal government will provide up to 125 million reusable masks to school districts across the country.
The masks, a mix of adult and youth sizes, can be used for students, teachers and staff, says Carol Danko, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services. Some will come from current deliveries and others will be manufactured.
While it’s good, Yost said, “it simply does not begin to address all the challenges that district leaders and teachers face when planning to open schools safely.” She said Congress should pass another $ 200 billion relief bill for schools to pay for everything from online learning technologies to modified food service activities.
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The costs of masks and other protective equipment have been part of certain school protection decisions to start the year remotely.
The Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified schools are starting the yearonline and has urged lawmakers to pay for personal protective equipment, or PPE.
“We honestly do not want to spend a single penny on PPE when that money should go to the education of our students,” said Superintendents Austin Beutner and Cindy Marten.
Seventeen of the country’s 20 largest school districts – which affect more than 4 million students – plan to just reopen with online courses, according to Education Week.
Other districts say they want to offer personal classes, but they have moved back their start dates. Some districts in the Midwest and the south have been contagious with personal reopening over the past two weeks; a handful have closed after outbreaks or have quarantined hundreds of students.
Masks, protective equipment will cost school districts millions
A typical school district with about 3,700 students will need about $ 1.8 million to reopen this fall, according to associations representing superintendents and business officials. It would pay for cleaning supplies and equipment, extra staff and masks for staff and students who do not bring them from home.
Some schools have ordered these supplies. But there is a shortage of protective equipment and cleaning supplies across the country, says David Lewis, executive director of the Association of School Business Officials International. Some school districts are still waiting for their plexiglass, masks and cleaning supplies to arrive, Lewis said.
“We have ordered items, especially cleaning supplies and PPE, and were told it would be delivered, but those dates have been bumped many times,” said Kelley Kitchen, chief financial officer of Gosen Community Schools and a member of the Association of School Business Officials’ Legislative Advisory Committee.
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In some cases, government leaders have promised to provide personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and extra cleaning supplies.
Texas school districts receive 53 million disposable masks and 18 million reusable masks for students and staff, along with gloves, thermometers, hand sanitizers and face shields. In Tennessee, school districts receive 27 million disposable masks and 298,000 reusable masks.
Based on last year’s registration, it seems that both states would have a good range of masks.
That does not seem to be the case in California. The California Department of Education has distributed 1.9 million cloth masks, 1.3 million face shields and 2.7 million bottles of hand sanitizer. The state has about 6.2 million public school students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers provided 2 million masks and more than 4,200 thermometers to school districts, said Chris Bucher, communications specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instructions.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said the state would provide at least five reusable masks for each student and staff and a two-month supply of thermometers and equipment.
Some school districts expect to provide masks for each student. The Association of School Activities based its resumption calculation on providing masks for 30% of them. It is based on the assumption that schools would need to provide masks for students whose families cannot buy them or those who forget them, Yost said.
States require FEMA for masks
Some of the equipment comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which said it has distributed masks to states on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services. The accessories can be distributed according to states as appropriate.
Brian Ferguson, Deputy Director of Crisis Communications for the California Office of Civil Protection, expects that FEMA will cover 75% of the supplies distributed to schools there.
FEMA delivered 2 million masks and 4,200 thermometers at no cost to the state of Wisconsin, said Britt Cudaback, the governor’s deputy communications director.
In Indiana, school districts have received protective equipment through the CARES Act, local and state public funds and donations from the community, Kitchen said.
“The need is so much greater than just masks”
When school districts are waiting for supplies, some teachers worry that the burden will fall on them. This is especially true in poorly funded districts and those with a large proportion of students from poor families.
Heather Sanchez is a music teacher at a public school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where 68% of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Government officials plan to provide personal protective equipment and hand cleaning to students and staff, Sanchez said. But that’s not all these students need.
“There are problems with our children having shoes,” she said. “Our children do not have food and school supplies. The need is so much greater than just masks.”
In addition, parents and teachers are concerned about student safety.
Victoria Creamer, an elementary school principal in Durham, North Carolina, said she was afraid of what lay ahead. Last school year, when the state was under a stay-at-home order, an 8-year-old student at her school contracted the virus and died.
Creamer worries that without proper preparation and supplies, it could be an outbreak.
Some wonder how schools with small classrooms will ensure social distance and how schools will deal with parents who do not want their children to wear masks, Sanchez said.
“The fear is there,” Creamer said, “and no one seems to be dealing with it.”
Cast: Elinor Aspegren, Dinah Voyles Powder, Erin Richards, Donovan Slack
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