A Statement on reopening schools from BFT President Richard Franklin

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7/14/20                                                                         

For immediate release

A statement from Birmingham AFT President, Richard Franklin concerning the re-opening of Alabama’s public schools (Survey results included):

The safety and health of our public-school communities must be first and foremost in any plans to reopen buildings so that educators can teach, and students can learn. The road map to return to in-person classroom instruction must be clear, universal and focused on science and the advice of top health experts. It must not jeopardize the health and well-being of our school populations.

I was extremely frustrated when our State Superintendent, Dr. Mackey, revealed the Alabama Roadmap to Reopening Schools.  It was vague, left everything up to local school systems, and offered no extra resources to achieve the safe reopening that we all desire. Simply directing district officials to follow generic CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommendations, without customizing requirements for the realities of our school settings, is insufficient for a safe statewide reopening. We need more, not less, funding as our students return to school and rebound from the pandemic and the inevitable learning loss and trauma that come with it.

Protocols and physical barriers are being put in place in doctor offices, banks, grocery stores, and other public locations to keep the customers and patients safe, our public schools should be no different.  After all, you do not go to any of those locations for 8 hours a day, five days a week, like our students and staff do in our public schools.

Before Alabama parents send their children into school buildings this fall, they must feel confident that districts have the funds necessary to make schools safe havens. They must know that everyone is following CDC guidelines for health and safety — and that our buildings are not incubators for spreading COVID-19.

Successfully returning to in-person learning depends largely on local districts ensuring a real voice for all public education employees in determining our ‘new normal.’ Teachers and school support staff must have the opportunity to provide input, ideas and proposals to districts and the state’s education department to ensure students and our members’ safety.

Recently Birmingham AFT surveyed public-school employees from across the state to find out how they felt about returning to face to face learning.  We had 1750 responses.  Here’s what we found:

60% say that their district’s leadership team is not including educators in their conversations about district led virtual education and the upcoming 20-21 school year.

72% do not feel safe at all returning to their buildings

59% said that mandatory masks, social distancing, daily classroom sanitizing, frequent hand wash breaks, and smaller class sizes would not alleviate their fears enough to feel safe returning to work.

When given a choice between face to face, blended (face to face and district led virtual) or complete virtual learning 54% said complete district led virtual learning, 9% said face to face.

66% of the respondents felt prepared, or somewhat prepared, for district led virtual learning.

96% are worried, or somewhat worried, about the impact of the Coronavirus on their own health.

We feel the results of this survey, while not scientific, are very indicative of how Alabama’s public-school employees feel as a whole.

We are eager to bring education back into school buildings for many reasons: to improve academic and other outcomes for all students — and allow parents to get back to work. We know learning is more equitable and effective when it takes place in person, but local districts cannot, on their own, provide truly safe learning environments at this time.

That is why, currently, Birmingham AFT cannot support face to face teaching. We feel strongly that the numbers of new cases need to be trending downwards before we can even start to consider it.  In the meantime, we are asking that the State and Federal governments provide specific guidance and resources that will ensure that the populations in our public schools are truly safe, and that an equitable education is being provided for all.   

Specifically, we are asking for:

  • smaller class sizes;
  • routine testing for COVID-19;
  • monitoring health and well-being of all students;
  • state-provided personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • disinfecting schools daily;
  • cleaning classrooms, hallways, bathrooms and commonly shared areas and equipment, including desks and computers, to provide a safe learning and teaching environment;
  • Isolation rooms;
  • Inspections and updates on all ventilation and filtration that is provided by heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems in our public education buildings.
  • A full time nurse in every school; and
  • Ensured, continuous funding for these resources so that it does not become a burden on local districts’ general funds.

 

We look forward to the day when these things can be put in place and we can all return to a new normal, in person, face to face education for our children.

Sincerely,

Birmingham AFT President

Richard Franklin

205-482-4377

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