AFTNJ President Donna M. Chiera is encouraged by the new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Education to assist K-12 schools across the country to safely reopen and stay open for in-person instruction.
In a media telebriefing Feb. 12, the CDC emphasized five key mitigation strategies: correct use of masks, social/physical distancing of at least six feet, hand washing, regular cleaning and testing/contact tracing.
“Four of the recommended mitigation strategies are, at this point in the pandemic, common-sense steps and part of our everyday routines, so they should be relatively easy to implement and remember,” said Chiera.
Chiera is especially pleased that the CDC’s operational strategy has a component on vaccinations for teachers and school staff and that the CDC is recommending those who work in the educational sector be prioritized for vaccines by their respective states.
“That is the biggest positive to come out of this guidance,” Chiera said. “Should education personnel be prioritized in New Jersey, it would go a long way in erasing the mixed message in our state regarding smokers having access to vaccines ahead of educators. And for regular testing and contact tracing to have an impact, they must be available to all staff as well as students.”
Separate from the CDC’s five mitigation strategies was an emphasis on improving ventilation by opening windows and doors when possible.
“Ventilation is one of the biggest issues in our districts with older schools — chief among them Newark, Perth Amboy, North Bergen and Garfield — so this will continue to be a challenge moving forward,” Chiera said.
AFT President Randi Weingarten praised the CDC for producing “an informed, tactile plan that has the potential to help school communities around the country stay safe by defining the mitigation and accommodation measures, and other tools educators and kids need, so classrooms can once again be vibrant places of learning and engagement.”