New Hampshire's largest teachers union is criticizing Gov. Chris Sununu's guidelines for reopening schools this fall, calling them unsafe for students and educators.
The president of the state chapter of the National Education Association said in a statement Wednesday that the state's impressive results in containing the spread of the coronavirus were due to strict rules aimed at keeping people safe. But she said the same standard is not being applied to schools as part of the reopening plan released Tuesday by the governor.
"Somehow, when it comes to school children and educators, the Governor believes the virus will act so differently that students and staff don't need to wear masks, and social distance rules apply only if practical," said Megan Tuttle, NEA-NH president.
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"We had hoped for a set of minimum safety standards for all schools to achieve before they were safe to reopen," Tuttle added. "Instead, we received 56 pages of 'shoulds' not 'shalls.' The fastest way to undo the remarkable progress New Hampshire has made against the virus is to allow these guidelines to define how we reopen our school."
The teachers union also criticized Sununu for not involving frontline public school educators on the task force that came up with the school reopening guidelines.
Sununu on Tuesday outlined recommendations for screening, social distancing, hygiene and other safety measures aimed at preventing further spread of the coronavirus. While President Donald Trump is demanding that schools resume in-person instruction, New Hampshire is leaving it to each school district to decide whether to fully return to the classroom, continue with remote instruction or combine those two options.
“We feel very confident that all students can come back to the classroom in a safe, health and productive manner, in a practical way,” he said. “We also appreciate that in some districts, it could be because of staffing, it could be because of public health anxiety — maybe the rate of COVID starts to skyrocket in one town versus another — we want them to have that flexibility.”
The guidelines released Tuesday include information about rearranging classrooms to maximize social distancing, screening of staff and visitors and other precautions. Schools that do reopen must provide accommodations for students and educators who are not able to return due to underlying health concerns. Masks will be required for all outside visitors, including parents, and strongly encouraged for staff and students under certain circumstances, for example, when within 3 feet of each other during group activities.
Dr. Ben Chan, the state epidemiologist, acknowledged that some of the recommendations are inconsistent with previous advise to wear face coverings when within 6 feet of others. But he said, taken as a whole, the guidance is built upon layers of protection.