In normal years, parents would be worrying right now about buying school supplies, and kids would be dreading the end of their summer vacations. Yet this isn’t a normal year; due to COVID-19, parents and students are worried about whether it’s safe to go back into classrooms at all.
This leaves parents, teachers, and local school districts with really difficult decisions as Georgia’s 1.7 million students prepare for the school year.
On one hand, in-person education is a crucial component not just of a child’s intellectual growth, but their personal development. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids “learn social and emotional skills at school, get healthy meals and exercise, mental health support and other services that cannot be easily replicated online.”
This is especially true for children with special needs. I was a special needs teacher in Georgia, and I saw firsthand how important it is for these kids to have personalized learning. Without in-person schooling, many of them lack access to speech training, motor skills assistance, or other therapies that help them in their everyday life. The impact on these kids and their development is deeply concerning.
Parents everywhere have had to assume the role of “teacher”, and we applaud them for it. Unfortunately, at no fault of their own, many parents are not equipped to offer all the educational support that their kids need.
With virtual learning, we are also asking a lot of our teachers. They must manage and enhance their students’ ability to focus and engage online. Everyone is adjusting to these new challenges, but many of our children are at an unfair disadvantage and now risk falling behind.
All of us want students back in school eventually, but as a grandmother, I want to make sure my grandkids are absolutely safe when school starts.
How and when schools decide to safely reopen this fall are tough decisions, but we should let parents, teachers, and local administrators make them. There are 181 school districts in Georgia; every one of them should be able to do what’s best for their own communities.
The only problem is that many school districts may not have all the information or resources they need to make these decisions. My husband, Senator David Perdue, the son of two public school teachers, recently proposed the SCHOOL Act to help bridge this gap.
The SCHOOL Act does four things.
First, it establishes a grant program to help schools as they stock up on hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and other protective equipment. No school should struggle to afford the materials that are proven to save lives.
Second, it will provide funding to connect healthcare professionals to schools that need help with checking symptoms or caring for sick students. It also provides the infrastructure to allow for these services to be done through telehealth, if needed.
Third, this bill creates a clearinghouse to help school systems across the country share the best safety practices that they have learned. The challenges we face are very new. It is important that we learn from each other’s experiences to ensure we deliver the best decisions for our kids.
Finally, the SCHOOL Act improves data transparency to give parents a full picture of coronavirus cases in schools.
These solutions aren’t all-encompassing; there are other steps we will likely need to take. However, this bill is a starting point that will have a measurable impact in every school district across our state as they weigh their decisions. With tools and information available for schools, every parent can rest easy that their local school officials are making informed decisions.
Most importantly, this bill contains no mandates from the government, allowing local districts to make whatever decisions they feel are best. For instance, Fulton County has decided to start out entirely virtual this year. Forsyth County, on the other hand, is launching a hybrid between in-person and virtual. Under the SCHOOL Act, districts can take their own approach while having equal access to the resources they need when it’s time to reopen fully.
Going to school is one of the most important foundations of not just a child’s life, but of our society as a whole. All of us want to get kids back to school so that they can blossom into productive citizens and the leaders of tomorrow. The SCHOOL Act will help give kids the safe, quality education they deserve, and hopefully help us adapt to this new normal.