WASHINGTON - National Education Association President Becky Pringle issued the following statement today calling for expansion of COVID-19 screening testing and clearer close contact and quarantine policies in schools.
“We are all encouraged by the news that a COVID-19 vaccine may soon be available for children as young as 5 years old. In the meantime, we need to do more to keep all our students, families, and staff safe and healthy and to keep schools open for safe in-person instruction. That is why I am calling for immediate expansion of COVID-19 screening testing in schools, as well as sensible, clear and consistent close contact and quarantine policies across the nation.
“In addition to masking, distancing, and improved ventilation, it is crucial that schools have appropriate guidance and the necessary procedures in place to identify new infections and limit the spread of COVID-19 in schools. In far too many places, these commonsense public health measures are not in place. In fact, many states appear committed to undermining public health and prolonging the worst of this pandemic—creating a cycle of infections that places the burden of extraordinary sacrifice at our students’ and educators’ feet.
“Despite the tireless work of educators and many administrators working to keep schools safe, we’re seeing outbreaks, shutdowns, and lack of communication about positive cases. Schools are often a haven for our students, yet in this climate parents are worried about whether and when it is safe to send their children to school. We can and must do better than that – our students, families, and educators all deserve better than that. We must use the existing tools and knowledge we have to test, trace, and quarantine to keep students, families and educators safe and schools open for in-person instruction.
“Here’s what we need:
- First, CDC and HHS have teams in place to support school-based COVID testing. But we need the federal government to do more to facilitate the ability of individual school districts to implement testing programs. For our part, NEA’s new website--nea.org/covid-19-testing-in-schools—is live. You’ll find state-by-state resources for testing there.
- Next, we need a much clearer common definition of what constitutes close contact with someone with COVID-19 within classrooms, other indoor school facilities, and outdoors. The current guidelines are simply not in line with the realities of likely points of transmission in schools and are causing confusion and significant burdens on schools as they try to conduct contact tracing.
- Finally, we need better national guidance on what to do if someone has been in close contact in a school. Students, parents, and staff need to have clearer understanding of quarantine times, including options for shortened quarantines with negative test results.
“When a safe, effective vaccine is approved for younger children, NEA will work to ensure they’re readily available and accessible to all students – especially our Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities that are disproportionally impacted by COVID-19. But we must keep in mind that even once a vaccine is approved, it will be many, many months before a significant portion of elementary-aged students are fully vaccinated.
“All students have the right to safe in-person instruction. We look forward to the use of every available tool to keep our students and our educators safe. NEA remains committed to working together to ensure our local schools are the safest places in the community for every student, educator, and family.”
The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, students preparing to become teachers, healthcare workers, and public employees. Learn more at www.nea.org.
- Celeste Busser