Senate audience paints cloudy image of reopening schools amid coronavirus


A Senate committee hearing on the reopening of schools in the fall Wednesday highlighted the level of uncertainty faced by American schoolchildren, teachers and parents after the end of the last school year for most children due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Panelists and senators from the agency’s Health, Education, Work and Pensions (HELP) committee examined a wide range of issues, including masks, Internet access, literacy and responsibility, because the image of what the 2020-2021 school year will look like remained blurred.

“Any decision we make has significant costs. No easy answers or universal solutions, “said Tennessee Education Commissioner Dr. Penny Schwinn. “We have to keep people safe and we have to educate children. But our job and our responsibility is figuring out how to do it right. ”

Education Commissioner Tennessee Dr. Penny Schwinn appeared before the HELP Senate committee on Wednesday to testify about the reopening of schools amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Senate HELP Committee)


The hearing, which took place following racial protests against the death of George Floyd and as it became increasingly clear that the coronavirus disproportionately affects minorities, also focused largely on how to avoid racial disparities in education in the next school year.

“It is likely that some schools will have to keep their physical buildings closed, totally or partially for all or some of our students,” said Sen Patty Murray, D-Wash. “Students facing some of the biggest challenges of COVID-19 [are] low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, English learners, homeless. ”

Senator Bill Cassidy, R-La., Also asked Denver public school superintendent Susana Cordova about what would happen if the schools had children at a distance and the parents could not work from home – a problem that disproportionately affects those with lower incomes.

“We are trying to work with local partners to see how we can deliver more childcare,” said Cordova. “We are really bothered by the size of our buildings to accommodate a certain number of students in our classrooms given health guidelines. ”


Dr. Matthew Blomstedt, the Education Commissioner of Nebraska, told Cassidy that he was working on a “risk dial” to help decide if schools in certain jurisdictions should return children to their buildings.

“If we see wide spread, additional health and safety arrangements will be needed. If there are very few, there is more … attention to individual health than what happens in school, “he said. “We believe that masks and other adjustments will be necessary all the time to continue on this limited distribution. ”

Cassidy doubted Blomstedt, saying he did not believe public health experts would recommend that students wear masks even in areas with low spread of coronavirus.

On accountability, Schwinn said his condition is focused on making sure teachers think about teaching and don’t avoid prosecution.

“We know that the tort liability of our teachers is covered by state law. We currently have conversations going on, ”she said. “Certainly we want to make sure that there is enough protection so that it is not too focused on some of the” whether or not little Johnny has his mask “in a kindergarten class so that we can really focus on teaching literacy and mathematics. and support the whole child. ”

Cordova added that the intersection of health and legal issues for her district created “a very important responsibility that we are very concerned about.”


Coronavirus has been shown to be much safer for children than for adults – which is why schools could potentially open before the company’s large offices. But Murray also raised concerns about the health of educators, which were not addressed in a substantive manner at the hearing. The health of vulnerable parents was also discussed.

Murray, at the end of the hearing, started the Trump administration. She said she wants the federal government to do everything to support local school districts and fears that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will pursue measures that increase the privatization of education in response to the pandemic.

“They need massive investment in our public school system so that schools have the resources they need to implement public health protocols, to measure and address learning loss in their students and to offset the declines they will see in the state and locally. funding, “she said. “What they don’t need is for Secretary DeVos to use this crisis to advance her privatization agenda and make the challenges they face worse. “


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