(07/22/2020)
Fred Albert, president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, expresses doubt at a news conference Monday that there will be face-to-face instruction when school starts in September related to COVID-19.

“If we were to start school today, it's not safe,” said Albert. He held out hope that the outlook will improve, but “we're not there now.”

Calhoun Schools has developed a tentative plan for re-opening.

Gov. Justice said Monday that he’s “absolutely not willing” to reopen schools unless he’s certain, based on expert advice, that it’s “safe and the thing to do.”

When Albert was asked what the proper criteria is to open schools, he said that first, “we’ve got to get the numbers under control.”

However, “there’s nothing that teachers, parents and students want more than to be back in school,” he said.

Students finished the last school year with online instruction after Justice ordered classrooms closed on March 13. Albert said having students take classes remotely “wasn't easy.”

Much of the state has poor broadband connectivity.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Salango, who faces Justice in November, said alongside Albert that there must be statewide coordination and “clear direction” on the necessary steps to open schools.

"We can't just shift the calendar," Salango said. “If we don’t take proper steps now and plan, our schools are going to be breeding grounds.”

Using federal CARES Act funds, he said those measures would include ensuring every school is properly ventilated and providing them with temperature-checking scanners and health professionals, giving each student a tablet and WiFi hot spot access for taking courses at home, increasing the network of school buses to maintain social distancing, and supplying teachers, service personnel and students with face masks and other protective equipment.

In addition, more certified teachers and support staff should be hired to allow for an improved teacher-to-student ratio for both virtual and in-classroom learning. Cleaning equipment also must be upgraded to properly sanitize school facilities and buses. And the state must have available virus testing for staff and students, he said.


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