Editorial: Resources for school health, safety must be part of in-person mandate
Posted February 8, 2021 5:00 a.m. EST
CBC Editorial: Monday, Feb. 8, 2021; Editorial #8633
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.
North Carolina’s school students and teachers are better off when learning and instruction are going on in a classroom.
But, amid the current COVID-19 pandemic, the State Senate legislation mandating it for most public schools (public charter schools are NOT included) lacks the funding for the necessary additional instructional staff to assure effective learning. There aren’t the appropriate health safeguards to assure schools aren’t hazardous and dangerous.
No one should be required to risk their lives – and that is NO exaggeration – to fulfill some legislators’ political agenda. If it’s more than political posturing, there should be the money in the legislation to do things right.
Senate leader Phil Berger has been, since the summer, demanding schools provide in-classroom instruction. He declared in a July 14 news release – “North Carolina Students Must Safely Return to Classrooms on Aug. 17.” During that same timeframe the state recorded more than 850 COVID-19 deaths.
The legislation, Senate Bill 37, makes specific note of several studies and statements to back up the contention that classrooms are best for instruction and learning and that they can be safe.
But it is that last part, CAN BE SAFE is where the rub comes. Like too many things the General Assembly’s demanded, this legislation failed to provide the needed resources to make good on the mandate and assure classrooms are safe for teachers, other school staff and students.
There’s no money in the bill to pay for the most basic necessities such as:
- More teachers, so there could be, as necessary for appropriate social distancing, fewer students per class.
- Additional transportation resources so students would be properly socially distant to-and-from school.
- Appropriate space and facilities for safe preparation, distribution and consumption of school meals.
- Adequate nurses, staffing each open school, to provide and respond to on-site health needs (even before the pandemic, fewer than 27% of NC middle and high schools had a full-time school nurse).
- Regular on-site COVID-19 testing to spot potential outbreaks and deal with them before they become super-spreaders.
This is not extravagant. It is necessary. It is the precaution that those who advocate return to in-person learning say is prudent and must be taken.
But, when offered the chance to add some of those necessities to the legislation, they were voted down. Legislators rejected spending $177 million for additional school personnel as well as $102 million to put a nurse in every opened school.
It isn’t a question about the money. There are billions, as much as $5 billion idle taxpayer dollars sitting as unreserved cash, available to pay for many of these needs. What are they saving this money for? The rainy days, rainy-day funds are created for, are here.
Local school systems already face the challenges of getting classrooms open and setting dates for in-school instruction only to find as those dates approached, COVID-19 numbers increased and there wasn’t enough staff to put into the schools.
Opening schools takes more than waving some paper in the legislature and passing a mandate that lacks backing to get the job done. If this is more than posturing, legislators must provide the necessary support and resources for schools open safely.
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