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’No safe way to open Roanoke County schools’ for in-person learning says teachers’ union

Roanoke County Education Association released its statement on Monday

Reopening schools in Virginia
Reopening schools in Virginia

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – If Roanoke County teachers have their way, when the school year begins, there will not be any in-person classes.

The Roanoke County Education Association, the area’s branch of the statewide teachers’ union, released its two-page statement on Monday afternoon.

“RCEA has determined that there is no safe way to open Roanoke County schools in a face to face setting. We support a return to schools remotely rather than physically in the current moment,” is what’s in part of the statement.

Tim Summers, the Roanoke County chapter’s president, said the group has, “prioritized the health and safety of our children, staff and families.”

He also said that this statement is similar to what other associations in Virginia have issued.

The statement notes the change in position of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which is no longer advising a full reopening of schools.

The group goes on to cite the poor conditions in schools as another reason to not return, “Our buildings have notoriously dysfunctional HVAC and ventilation systems. How can we trust that they will function in a way to eliminate the possibility of staff and students existing in a soup of virus?”

Rather than in-person learning, remote learning is what the RCEA is pushing for, “The great news is that all this strife can be avoided by simply opening remotely. It is a logical path which endangers no one so that we can all live to teach and learn again.”

Below is the full statement:

At this time, during a deadly global pandemic, with cases of disease on the rise in our area and other areas of Virginia and in most other states, RCEA has determined that there is no safe way to open Roanoke County schools in a face to face setting. We support a return to schools remotely rather than physically in the current moment.

Our position has evolved in recent weeks as more and better research has been presented to the public as to rates and manner of transmission of the virus, mortality rates and the age range in the general population in which serious complications from the virus occur.

In answer to our survey, 74% of respondents would prefer a remote opening with the same percentage of responses indicating that schools are not safe to reopen. 90% responded that they have high or medium anxiety about returning with 54% of respondents in the high anxiety range.

I also point to the change in position of the American Academy of Pediatrics who are no longer advocating for a full reopening of schools.

We would love nothing more than to be back in the classrooms with the students that we care for, doing the work to which we have devoted our lives. Every teacher and staff member we know wants to be back on school campuses—but only when it is safe to do so.

Right now, cases of COVID-19 are rising in many states that rushed to reopen too quickly. We are dealing with a dangerous virus that is spread by person-to-person contact and has sickened and killed Americans of all ages. We need to take the time to do it right and stay healthy and safe for tomorrow.  Virginia must proceed with caution and ensure the health and safety of all as it considers schedules for reopening schools.

Health and safety are our top priorities. Economic factors and childcare concerns are important but secondary. We are dealing with an unprecedented global health crisis that demands extraordinary precautions.

Our members want very much to help you in planning for and delivering instruction in a meaningful way and pledge to give 100% in our efforts to this end.

We, as a group, have discussed the challenges of reopening in person and have found that there will be no way to effectively comply with safety guidelines and that even attempting to do so would be disruptive to learning and would impact instructional time in a negative way. Even the seemingly simple requirement for regular hand washing throughout the day would be at best difficult to manage and would result in hours per week of hand washing vs learning. With children not being allowed to share items in the classroom, teaching with manipulatives would be nearly or entirely impossible. Remote lessons with manipulatives could be accomplished by the students using common items in their homes.

Our buildings have notoriously dysfunctional HVAC and ventilation systems. How can we trust that they will function in a way to eliminate the possibility of staff and students existing in a soup of virus?

The inevitable wave of closings, quarantine and reopening and the crisis of availability of substitute teachers needs to be considered.

As we plan learning for the fall, every student deserves access to the technology and tools they need to learn successfully in a school or from home. Reopening costs will be much higher to ensure safety. The federal and state governments MUST provide additional funding to help schools during this crisis. Failure to do so will only worsen the inequities in our public schools, disproportionately affecting students of color and those living in poorer communities.

The great news is that all this strife can be avoided by simply opening remotely. It is a logical path which endangers no one so that we can all live to teach and learn again.


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