Good evening Chair McNealy, Board Members, and Superintendent Simon:
ACCPTA appreciates your continued attention to the health and safety of our students and the school community as a whole. As you know, new data shows the Delta variant is highly transmissible and has the ability to infect and spread through fully vaccinated people. You have heard about the significant rise in COVID cases among children and youth in our community, both in quantity and in severity.
We understand the value of reopening schools for in-person learning and sympathize with the position the district is in, with regards to state mandates. However, as a child advocacy organization, we implore you to put the health and welfare of children first, putting in place as many guidelines and requirements as possible to minimize COVID spread within our schools. This includes providing schools with the resources needed to implement current CDC recommendations, such as mandatory student masking, distancing, and screening & testing protocols. In addition…we believe there are creative solutions that can be implemented to help minimize risk, such as your recent decision to require masking of all adults in schools.
Finally, with Digital Academy no longer available, we ask you to please supply our Alachua e-School with the necessary additional personnel and resources so it can provide learning options for the many families who do not feel safe sending their children to school in-person without mandatory student masking.
ACCPTA continues to stand ready and eager to work with you to help facilitate communication, resource distribution, and family engagement regarding all of these critical issues.
PTA positions related to health and safety in schools:
National PTA believes that a comprehensive health program, encompassing health education, health services and healthy school environment includes the following components:
- Policy and goals established by local school boards in partnership with parents, students, educators, community health care providers and others, and includes the development, implementation and evaluation of a comprehensive school health program.
- Health Services that appropriately reflect the educational and community commitment to address identified health problems that limit students’ abilities to learn.
- Healthy school environments that demonstrate care for physical facilities, stress the importance of positive mental health and emotional climates within the school setting, and ensure the physical safety of the students and staff.
- School-site health promotion programs for faculty and staff that include wellness components, which will increase job satisfaction, morale and a healthy quality of life.
- Integrated school and community health promotion efforts that acknowledge the shared responsibility for student health with the home, public and private health care systems, law enforcement and justice systems, government, environmental agencies, business, religious organizations, civic groups and the media.
National PTA believes that comprehensive school health programs are an essential link in the health education/health care chain. In order to fulfill the responsibility of offering educational opportunities to all children, we need to recognize and deal with their health needs as they impact our schools and communities.
Therefore, parents, schools, and communities are encouraged to work together in partnership to provide effective, comprehensive health programs and policies.
A founding principle of National PTA’s mission is to promote the safety and well-being of all children and youth. School safety is a critical priority for all parents, educators, students, and community members that cannot be taken for granted. Students and educators have a right to attend schools that are safe and conducive to learning and achievement, yet schools often experience critical incidents such as suicide, natural disasters, or a mass casualty event that have a devastating impact on students, parents, educators, and the community.
- Involve students, parents and families in the development, implementation and evaluation of all school safety plans, including emergency preparedness, crisis response, and threat assessment protocols, school discipline policies and procedures, and student health and wellness support services.
- Conduct regular and timely communication with families about safety policies and procedures including school evacuation plans and reunification protocols.
- School districts and schools must communicate clearly and regularly to all families regarding school safety matters in languages that are accessible to them. This includes two-way, meaningful communication on the types of safety drills conducted, what students and parents can expect for drills and in the event of an actual emergency, what physical and psychological safety measures are in place, and the role and responsibilities of any type of security personnel on school premises, if applicable.
- Establish ongoing opportunities for students and parents to provide input on the school environment and climate.
School climate and student support services
- Promote a positive school climate that encourages nurturing relationships, and mutual trust and respect among students, staff and families.
- Distribute information on and connect students and families to appropriate integrated health and wellness services within the school and community.
National PTA understands that the reopening of our nation’s preK-12 schools during the COVID- 19 pandemic is vital to ensure the continuity of education, however it should not outweigh the safety and the mental and physical health of our students, educators, school employees and families. It is our association’s position that plans for reopening shall incorporate the best available science and the expertise of infectious disease doctors and health practitioners. Plans should also strictly follow the most up-to-date Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, including but not limited to reasonable social distancing, rigorous sanitizing processes and viral screening and testing protocols. National PTA believes that states and school districts must plan and align logistics, educational strategies and public health approaches into one coherent response. We recognize that there will not be a one-size fits all process for the reopening of schools.
Inclusive stakeholder engagement is essential for effective decision-making and implementation. Any decision to reopen schools must involve parents, families, students, educators, school employees, public health experts and community members in the planning, implementation and monitoring of the 2020-2021 school year. The presence of the parent and student voice and attention to unique family situations is critical to the successful reopening of schools. Effective stakeholder engagement must be inclusive, transparent, provide multiple opportunities for input and include meaningful, clear and concise communication. All information and protocols should be disseminated to parents, families, students, and communities, using current best practices for family and student engagement. Furthermore, all communications must be accessible to parents with disabilities and available in other languages.
Schools must be prepared to address the transition to back to school, the trauma of a pandemic and the many instructional issues, including the effects of learning loss and the digital divide.
Students will likely return to schools with serious gaps in their learning and retention and unique social-emotional needs. Schools must be prepared to identify indicators, such as symptoms of trauma, learning loss and/or retention and have the requisite funding and community partnerships to effectively support the student and their family as reopening occurs. School districts must ensure multiple modes of instruction and scheduling plans are developed in order to remediate and support students, wherever they are on the continuum. Close adherence to local and state academic standards is imperative as we begin the long, arduous and as yet unknown process of reopening our nation’s preK-12 schools.
National PTA strongly supports a robust federal investment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic which in include investments in public health, public schools, universities, hospitals, and local and state governments. National PTA urges the federal and state governments to provide the funding necessary to ensure that when our schools reopen, they have the resources needed to do so as safely and successfully as possible. Many of our nation’s school districts are already working without the resources needed to provide an equitable education and critical supports to all students. The added strain of recovery from a worldwide pandemic will wreak havoc on all localities and will require significant, immediate and continuing support from federal and state funding. While our public schools have been woefully under-resourced, this next phase of “returning to school” is an opportunity to visualize what public education looks like in a post-pandemic era, to ensure every child can reach their fullest potential regardless of zip code.