Rich's Notebook

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Rich's Notebook

Rich's Notebook is a weekly blog intended to update PSEA members on what is on the PSEA President's mind. In each post, you'll read about Rich's priorities, his thoughts on important topics, or inspiring stories of educators going above and beyond.

This week Rich discusses: School Reopening Plans.

 

July 16, 2020

A letter to Gov Wolf and Secretary Rivera

Yesterday, Gov. Wolf announced some additional restrictions on activities in Pennsylvania because of recent increases in COVID-19 cases. I think this is a prudent step to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but I know that it has raised even more questions about whether schools can safely open for in-person instruction.

Many PSEA members are worried about this. I am, too. That’s why I think it is very important for our schools to plan for the possibility that they may need to open for online instruction only. 

In public education, planning is essential. And our schools need to begin that planning now.

That’s why I sent Gov. Wolf and Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera a letter today, encouraging them to direct schools to start planning for what online-only instruction will look like if we need to go that route.

You can read that letter here and a press release about it here.

PSEA members want to get back to school and see their students in person. But, as much as we know that this is the best way to teach and serve kids, we also know that we can’t put their health and safety – or ours – at risk.

Right now, we don’t know whether schools will be unable to open for in-person instruction. 

But we do know that planning is absolutely essential to ensuring that our students get the best possible education. If we need to educate our students online, our schools need to start planning for that possibility immediately.

Advocating for PSEA members’ health and safety during this pandemic is my top priority. So, I’m going to continue to urge Gov. Wolf and Secretary Rivera to get this planning started, and I will be sure to keep you updated as this develops.

July 13 - School Reopening Plans

As we look ahead to the beginning of the school year, I know that many of us have a lot of questions about what it will look like.

PSEA members want to get back to our schools and students, but there’s no doubt that many of us are concerned about how safe our buildings will be and how we will keep everyone in them healthy.

Reducing these health risks is PSEA’s top priority, and we’re working every day to do everything possible to make sure of it and protect you and your students – from the governor’s office to your schools, classrooms, and worksites.

We are here to stand up for our members and your students. We take that responsibility seriously, and promise to be your strongest advocate. Something else is clear. This situation may change rapidly and often. So, expect to hear from me frequently because I’ll do my very best to keep you updated.

Schools have detailed guidance, and PSEA is monitoring plans closely

PSEA and state associations representing everyone in public education have released a report summarizing key issues that schools need to address. And the state Department of Education has also provided them with some of the most detailed guidance produced by any state in the nation.

To reopen, every school district must adopt a clear plan. The majority of schools haven’t completed their plans yet, and we are working with your local association leadership to influence these plans. 

As always, final decisions about how to reopen schools are made by the schools and school boards themselves. Approaches to reopening will definitely vary. But, if schools reflect on the guidance that they’ve been provided, they can reduce the health risks.

What does a safe reopening plan look like?

PSEA and your local association leaders are monitoring these decision-making processes very closely.  And we’re emphasizing what it looks like to reopen schools in ways that reduce health risks. This includes:

•    Properly sanitizing facilities, 

•    Enforcing social distancing, 

•    Wearing face coverings in common spaces,

•    Working with local leaders, UniServs, and PSEA attorneys to advise members on appropriate ADA accommodations and leave options, and 

•    Preparing guidance on how schools will transition to online learning in case they are forced to close again.

PSEA is fighting for resources to support these reopening plans

A big part of this is the work we’re doing to ensure that schools have the resources they need to pay for the cleaning supplies, face coverings, protective equipment, and staff they need to keep facilities clean, socially distanced, and safe.

We’ve succeeded in securing more than $250 million in state safety grants for these kinds of expenditures, and we’ve been lobbying the federal government for months now to get an additional $175 billion for schools across the nation. That could mean as much as $3 billion for Pennsylvania’s K-12 schools and colleges and universities.

It’s OK to have questions

The work we all have ahead of us won’t be easy. It could be the most challenging thing any of us have confronted in public education. But I have more confidence than ever in you and our 180,000 PSEA colleagues.

It’s OK to have questions, to be a little worried, and to be uncertain about what the future holds. I think we all feel that way. I know I do. If you do, please feel free to contact your local association president or UniServ representative. You can find their contact information at www.psea.org/about-psea/regionsandlocals/

I want you to know that PSEA will be with you every step of the way. We’re going to fight for you, protect you, and speak out for you. That’s what we’re here for.

I’ll be sharing regular updates about this process. And I know we’ll get through this like we always do - together.