Dr. Christine Miles of NJEA’s Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division testified on Friday, Aug. 7 before the NJ Assembly Health Committee on schools reopening during the global pandemic.
Here is her full testimony:
NJEA Testimony to Assembly Health Committee
Dr. Christine Miles, New Jersey Education Association
Friday, August 7, 2020
Thank you, Chairman Conaway and members of the Assembly Health Committee, for the opportunity to testify on behalf of NJEA’s 200,000 members serving students from pre-K through higher education.
My name is Dr. Christine Miles and my past experiences include serving as a high school English Teacher, building-based administrator, curriculum supervisor, and international consultant.
Students, parents, and communities trust their educators and look to them for guidance and support in times of need. Parents and caregivers entrust their children to schools for a considerable amount of children’s developmental years. Educators act in loco parentis, not merely educating children, but deeply caring for their physical and emotional health and safety. We are bound — through the policies and procedures we advocate for and develop – to ensure children’s safety and well-being.
The medical and research community’s understanding of required health and safety standards for reopening brick and mortar schools is becoming more clear each and every day. Here’s what we know:
- We need…
- strict physical distancing of 6+ feet in all shared indoor and outdoor spaces;
- Universal masking requirements;
- Optimally functioning HVAC systems, filtration, and supplemental air cleaning;
- Increased hygiene protocols, bathroom safety; cleaning and disinfection for high-touch surfaces.
*Due to time constraints today, I have included prior testimony to the Assembly Education Committee which goes into further detail on these matters.
In regard to COVID-19 and how it impacts children, communities, and schools. Here’s what we know:
- To prevent spread, we must avoid the 3Cs – Closed Spaces, Crowded places, and Close-contact settings. Three aspects unavoidable in a brick and mortar school setting.
- While children generally present with mild symptoms compared with adults, young children carry high viral loads, including some 100x that of adults, and children can be significant drivers of COVID-19 virus spread to the community; Children between the ages of 10 – 19 can spread COVID-19 at least as well as adults.
- Our educators’ lives are at stake. 1 in 4 teachers are at significant risk of serious illness if infected by COVID-19. Add in the countless Education Support Professionals and administrators that work in our schools and that number continues to rise.
- Our community members’ lives are at stake. The data are undeniable that COVID-19 more tragically impacts people of color and our 65+ population. A Kaiser Family Foundation study indicates that there are 134,000 school-aged children living in the home with folks aged 65+ within the state of NJ. Additionally, senior citizens who are people of color, are more likely to live with a school-age child. Further, countless “studies have found that poor quality school facilities harm occupant health, attendance, achievement, and school quality. Children from low-income and non-white communities disproportionately attend schools with such facilities” The data on SDA districts shared in NJEA’s previous testimony further illuminates these egregious concerns.
- As NJ school reopening plans are released, we are continually hearing of hybrid models where students rotate through a cycle of in-person and remote learning. This is of incredible concern. An epidemiologist from Harvard’s School of Public Health is quoted, “the hybrid model is probably among the worst that we could be putting forward, if our goal is to stop the virus getting into schools.” This statement reflects the fact that students will have more contact with a greater number of individuals, due to revolving childcare and entry and exit to school buildings, heightening the spread of the virus. Further, a study based in the UK, released Monday, August 3rd, revealed that reopening schools on a full-time or hybrid basis will induce a second COVID wave 2 to 2.3x larger than the first. Infectious disease experts believe schools will be the epicenter for the spread of COVID-19 this fall.
What happens when schools DO reopen? Here’s what we know:
- Few countries have successfully reopened brick-and-mortar schools; when reopening successfully, transmission rates have been considerably lower and highly effective and proactive national pandemic response plans have been enacted. Frankly, this is simply NOT the case here in the United States. How can we be asked to take such extraordinary measures when those at the national level cannot take the most basic ones? Nearly 75% of countries throughout the world have instituted and continue to institute country-wide school closures to control the spread of COVID-19.
- When countries have re-opened brick and mortar schools prematurely, such as seen in Israel, the results were devastating. When Israel reopened schools, with significant mitigation efforts in place, there were only 10 new daily cases. As of Aug. 6th, NJ had 411 new cases. Since reopening, Israel’s COVID-19 numbers have surged and their schools have since closed.
In times of emergency, we teach our children to look for the helpers. In times of emergency, children look to their educators. When folks say that educators are essential workers and first responders, we agree. However, our essential responder role is to aggressively advocate for the protection of the health and safety of children and communities. If a child or educator becomes infected and dies from COVID-19, when we readily know the threat presented and do not yet have a safe pathway to contain the virus, those who ignore the research are culpable and complicit.
Members of the Committee, we do not need to guess, we do not have to speculate. Here’s what we know: there will be outbreaks, there will be closures, there will be irreparable damage done.
As educators, we know the simple truth that those who don’t learn the lessons are doomed to repeat the mistakes. How much potentially destructive innovating and improvising, struggling and suffering, desperation and dying must be done before those in positions of power realize brick and mortar school reopening cannot yet be done safely?
Respectfully, you and others in elected State positions are charged with the responsibility to open and close facilities for the health and safety of all. You must not allow our children, our students, our colleagues, our communities to be pawns in this unethical “experiment.” We urge you to give our districts the time and resources needed to SAFELY and EFFECTIVELY educate all of our students rather than rushing to an in person start date on a calendar that pretends to be ‘normal back to school.’ Thank you.