School districts, National PTA testify to Congress about how to reopen schools safely

School districts, National PTA testify to Congress about how to reopen schools safely
In this May 22, 2020, file photo the Dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is visible through heavy fog in Washington. (Andrew Harnik)

BOSTON — Members of a House Subcommittee heard testimony Thursday from school district representatives, the National Parent Teacher Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics about how schools can safely reopen for the fall while the coronavirus pandemic continues.

“Parents know the value of in-person instruction,” said Leslie Boggs, President of the National PTA. “It should not outweigh the safety and the mental and physical health of our students, educators, staff and families.”

Sean O’Leary, the Vice Chair of the Committee on Infectious Diseases at the American Academy of Pediatrics, testified that school districts will need to follow guidance from public health officials.

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“Schools will also need to have sufficient PPE for teachers and staff, implement new procedures for bussing and put protocols in place on how to respond if a student or teacher tests positive,” O’Leary said.

Witnesses said there isn’t a one size fits all approach and that each district should make a plan in part based on the COVID-19 rate and needs of their area.

In Dallas, Texas, schools are looking at how to offer both in-school and virtual learning options.

“We haven’t seen our students since March and we know that we need to see our students, but things are evolving,” said Michael Hinojosa, Superintendent for Dallas Independent School District.

In Tennessee, the Education Department said it is partnering with health departments and other agencies to get PPE to every staff member and disinfecting kits for classrooms.

“Families must make their own choices and districts must ensure that they are considering the feasibility of providing those choices,” said Dr. Penny Schwinn, Commissioner of Education for the Tennessee Department of Education.

The National PTA called on Congress to invest more funding in public schools to make sure the safety measures are in place.

“There are and will be continued needs Congress must address,” said Boggs.

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