If you have school-age children, chances are you're desperately waiting for a concrete solution as to how US schools can safely reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic. While many districts are opting for hybrid learning models, the timeline for when kids can fully return to the classroom is shaky, at best. On Aug. 25, the grassroots organizations Moms For Biden and Joe Mamas held a town hall for parents with guest speaker and mom of two Alyssa Milano. There, panelists discussed the facets of Biden's Agenda For Women as well as various topics that affect families.
While it's clear that the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket plans to improve the lives of US families by making child care more affordable and accessible as well as addressing the country's high maternal mortality rates, its plan for getting schools to open safely is at the top of their to-do list.
"Educators, students, and families have done an incredible job in difficult circumstances over the last four months," the Biden-Harris website reads. "Everyone wants schools to fully reopen for in-person instruction. Creating the conditions to make it happen should be a top national priority . . . It should be made recognizing that if we do this wrong, we will put lives at risk and set our economy and our country back."
Read ahead to see Biden's five-point plan to get students back into their respective classrooms safely.
Step 1: Get the Virus Under Control
Depending on what part of the country you live in, the number of COVID-19 cases may vary. Regardless, families should still be practicing social distancing according to their states' guidelines and wearing face masks whenever they're in public. "If we want to reopen schools safely, we need to get cases down in states and communities across America. Now," the website reads. "That means mask wearing and appropriate social distancing guidelines that match the virus trajectory in a community."
While Biden has laid out plans to curb the spread of the coronavirus three times over the last six months, he remains steadfast that Americans need to take every possible precaution if we want schools to fully reopen. Here's how he plans to get the virus under control:
- "Implement nationwide testing-and-tracing, including doubling the number of drive-through testing sites."
- "Establish a sustainable supply chain for [personal protective equipment] PPE, including fully utilizing the Defense Production Act to ensure enough masks for every school in America every day."
- "Protect older Americans and others at high risk."
- "Provide small businesses with the resources they need to reopen safely."
Step 2: Set National Guidelines, and Empower Local Lawmakers
Biden and Harris believe science should guide the country's reaction to the pandemic. Ultimately, they would work in tandem with government agencies like the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to establish "basic, objective criteria to guide state, tribal, and local officials in deciding if and how reopening can be managed safely in their communities."
It's also worth noting that Biden has gone on the record agreeing with organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Federation of Teachers that schools in areas with a high volume of confirmed coronavirus cases should not return to the classroom until it's safe to do so. If elected to office, Biden and Harris will work together to roll out the guidelines that include:
- Emergency funding for schools to reconfigure classrooms, kitchens, and other spaces; improve ventilation; and take the necessary steps to make it easier to physically distance and minimize the risk of spread.
- Schools taking precautions to protect educators and students by reducing class sizes, limiting large gatherings, and providing safe environments for eating.
- Students and educators in schools being provided with PPE every single day, if needed.
- Reasonable accommodations being made for at-risk educators and students.
- Officials at the state and local levels creating plans to regularly communicate about school decisions with parents, educators, and caregivers.
- The federal government issuing reopening guidelines — free from political interference — in greater detail to answer basic questions that schools may have.
Step 3: Provide Emergency Funding For Public Schools and Child-Care Providers
According to the Biden-Harris website, schools are in urgent need of additional financial support due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden believes all public schools should have the resources they need to safely resume in-person instruction.
"School officials estimate that districts will need about $30 billion to put in place the changes needed to reopen safely."
Currently, Biden is calling on Donald Trump and the Senate Republicans to pass the HEROES Act, which was approved by the House of Representatives in May. The bill includes roughly $58 billion that will be designated for local school districts to stabilize public education and save jobs.
The former vice president is also urging Congress to pass an additional emergency package to ensure schools have what they need to manage the fallout of COVID-19. "School officials estimate that districts will need about $30 billion to put in place the changes needed to reopen safely," it says. "This package should include funding for child care providers and public schools — particularly Title I schools and Indian schools — for personal protective equipment; public health and sanitation products; custodial and health services; and alterations to building ventilation systems, classrooms, schedules, class size, and transportation."
Step 4: Ensure High-Quality Learning Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic
Biden hopes to work with the US Department of Education to ensure that students, teachers, and parents feel supported while engaging in at-home learning by providing them with "high-quality remote and hybrid learning with a special emphasis on students with disabilities, English-language learners, and students who do not have access to specific technology, such as broadband and devices."
Moreover, the administration will create a "Safer Schools Best Practices Clearinghouse," so educators can share their best practices, protocols, and tools for reopening schools safely. Because some households are more at risk for contracting COVID-19 than others, Biden wants to provide as much information to American families regarding the "evolving scientific insights into how COVID-19 affects children" as possible. He also plans to roll out tailored education plans that make virtual learning easier for those who have underlying health issues, which may make it difficult to attend class in person.
Step 5: Close the COVID-19 Educational Equity Gap
It's no secret that low-income families and people of color have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In an effort to keep at-risk children from falling behind, the Biden-Harris administration seeks to tap experts in the medical, educational, and social-justice fields to:
- "Direct a White House-led initiative to identify evidence-based policy solutions that address gaps in learning, mental health, social and emotional well-being, and systemic racial and socioeconomic disparities in education that the pandemic has exacerbated."
- "Launch a COVID-19 Educational Equity Gap Challenge Grant to encourage states and tribal governments — in partnership with the education and broader community — to develop bold plans that adopt evidence-based policy recommendations and give all of our students the support they need to succeed."
- "Support community schools. Community schools work with families, students, teachers and community organizations to identify families' unmet needs . . . They provide holistic services like health and nutrition, mental health, and adult education — services that are especially critical during and after COVID-19 to address the social, emotional, academic, and health needs of students in a comprehensive way."