Teachers worry about return to classroom amid surges in COVID-19 cases

first_imgsmolaw11/iStockBy SOPHIE TATUM, ABC News(NEW YORK) — August Plock, a high school social studies teacher in Pflugerville, Texas, said he is slated to be back in the classroom on Aug. 13. But as new COVID-19 cases surge in the state, he said he’s concerned that teachers are being sacrificed in order to reopen the economy.President Donald Trump and some leaders are pushing for a return to normalcy. But a big piece of that equation — reopening schools — depends largely upon the willingness of teachers, many of whom say they have serious concerns about how the decision is being handled. Plock worries that returning to the classroom could mean accidentally exposing his 86-year-old mother, who he regularly visits, to the virus.“I would hate to think that I’ve been exposed to COVID and maybe not realized yet that I have, and then somehow bring that to her and to her home and expose her, so there are a lot of concerns related to that,” said Plock, who also serves as the president of Pflugerville Educators Association of the Texas State Teachers Association.Some teachers around the country say they are nervous about returning because of underlying health conditions or concerns about infecting family members. Others say they are frustrated by the lack of clear guidance from officials about what’s safe. And for some, it’s about child care if their own kids are only back at school for a handful of days during the week.The result is an inevitable clash between leaders pushing aggressive reopening policies in states like Texas and Florida and teachers, some of whom say local officials need to think more about what they are asking teachers to do.Three unions in Fairfax County, Virginia, representing education professionals, released a statement last week pushing back against the county school system’s “return to school” plan, arguing that the lack of detail doesn’t allow teachers and families to make an informed decision about returning to the classroom for in-person instruction.“We want to make sure it’s safe for our students, the educators and their families when they return home,” President of Fairfax County Federation of Teachers Tina Williams told ABC News.In an interview with ABC News, Kimberly Adams, president of the Fairfax Education Association, said the unions need to be more deeply involved in the decisions surrounding the return to school, and said her organization feels that anyone who applies for virtual teaching should be granted that option. She said in a statement that they shouldn’t return to in-person learning until a vaccine or a treatment is widely available.“We feel that should be the driver on the side of how many positions are available and how many distance teachers they need and how many classes they can offer in person. What’s being done is the reverse … they’re asking how many parents intend to send their children to school and then staffing up the buildings according to that,” Adams said.David Walrod, a math and special education teacher at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Fairfax County and a member of the governor’s return to school work group, said although first and foremost he is looking forward to the day that school is back to normal, he is worried about teacher safety.“I am concerned about people being put into situations where they have to decide between going in an unsafe work condition or losing their jobs,” he said.Apprehension around returning to unsafe classrooms extends even to parts of the country where the virus has been reined in. Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, a union that represents nearly 200,000 public school educators in New York City, said there’s “real fear” among teachers in the city after several died during the pandemic.“In the last two weeks, as we’re watching what’s going on in these other states, you can hear the fear and anxiety building again amongst our membership. They know what that is, they lived that. And they’re in horror that people aren’t taking it seriously,” Mulgrew said.School systems across the country are scrambling to make plans, but advocates say without the proper federal funding to help with safety measures, reopening for in-person learning in the fall just won’t happen. And Mulgrew said teachers won’t go back unless certain protocols are being followed.Safety protocols require funding, and ABC News previously reported that states could face an estimated $615 billion budget shortfall over the next three years because of the economic fallout from the novel coronavirus, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Cutbacks could severely impact public school funding.“There was a pause in the economy. State revenues collapsed. What the heck are they going to do? They [schools] need this funding from the federal government,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a phone interview.“So, if you know that you need funding for PPE, funding for cleaning, funding for transportation and funding to create the physical distancing, which means staggered schooling, I’m not even talking about the structural needs of kids or the social emotional needs of kids, but funding for school nurses, funding for guidance counselors. If none of that is coming to districts, what the heck are they supposed to do?” she said.Mulgrew said if schools don’t get additional federal funding, which is outlined in a bill that has yet to pass the Senate, “there’s no way for us to have the funding to do all this extra safety stuff.”“If we don’t feel we can reopen safely and the mayor of New York thinks we can, we’re going to have a street fight,” Mulgrew said. Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.last_img read more

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‘Broad coalition’ needed to deliver HS2

first_imgUK: ‘It will take a broad coalition involving us, the supply chain and local and national government to deliver this project’, Mark Thurston, Chief Executive of government high speed rail project delivery company HS2 Ltd told the All-Party Parliamentary Rail Group on November 20.He was updating parliamentarians on progress to date with the planned high speed network linking London with the West Midlands in its 225 km first phase, extending to reach Crewe, Manchester and Leeds in subsequent stages. The target date for completion of the 540 route-km network remains 2033 and the total funding envelope is £55·7bn at 2015 prices. Thurston reported that HS2 Ltd had spent around £4·5bn so far, acknowledging that there was ‘much more work ahead of us than behind us’. He expected that contracts totalling £20bn would have been let by the end of 2019.Thurston reported that significant progress had already been made, with construction underway at multiple sites including London Euston station. He suggested the project has already secured some ‘under-reported wins’, notably a pan-industry agreement with Network Rail and contractors to create space as part of the Intercity Express Programme for the Old Oak Common station in west London. Final construction contracts worth around £2bn covering the Euston and Old Oak Common stations are to be let ‘within weeks’.However, Thurston was frank when questioned about progress with the main alignment for Phase I, which has been controversial because it passes through the largely rural Chiltern Hills. Asked about rumours of delays in starting work, he said that the civil works contractual packages for which preferred bidders were named in July 2017 are let in two stages, with the first covering detailed design work.‘One of the biggest risks in major projects around the world has been proceeding with construction without being absolutely confident that the design can be delivered both in fulfilling the operational requirements of the railway and the budgetary constraints’, he said. ‘We are not there yet in terms of detailed design and I will not rush into the construction phase. Any delay will be for the right reasons.’Thurston admitted that detailed ground surveys had indicated more problematic conditions than had been anticipated. This concern has been exacerbated by the large amount of tunnelling which had been agreed under the Phase 1 hybrid bill process in parliament. ‘We don’t see as much tunnelling on high speed railways in Europe’, he added.Emphasising the importance of addressing costs over the operational life of the railway as well as during construction, Thurston said that he did not expect the decision to deploy slab track throughout Phase 1 to be revised. Nevertheless he acknowledged that the government would continue to assess HS2’s costs during its spending review process in the middle of next year.Parliamentary progressOn the later phases, Thurston said that the parliamentary bill covering Phase 2A between Handsacre and Crewe had ‘good momentum’ and was on course to receive Royal Assent by the end of 2019. High speed services are expected to be running between London and Crewe by the end of 2027, and HS2 Ltd is working with NR to agree a schedule to resignal the busy West Coast Main Line junction before Phase 2A is completed.The parliamentary process covering Phase 2B, linking the West Midlands and Crewe with Manchester, Leeds and junctions with the existing network near Wigan and York, has been held up to ensure HS2 Ltd’s plans are co-ordinated with proposals for an east-west line being taken forward under the Northern Powerhouse Rail initiative. Thurston said he hoped the Phase 2B bill would receive Royal Assent by the end of 2023 and open by the end of 2033.Wider benefitsWhile Thurston recognised that HS2’s ‘transport user benefits are still some years away’, he suggested other tangible positive effects are starting to appear, ‘especially in Birmingham, where HS2 is already proving a catalyst for business and investment, typified by the decision of HSBC bank to relocate there.’ HS2 Ltd has moved its headquarters to Birmingham, with around three-quarters of its 1 600 staff located there. The wider programme is likely to employ 22 000 people at peak construction, Thurston said.Addressing the burden this places on the supply chain, he suggested that ‘we must attract many more people from different backgrounds to the transport and infrastructure sectors’. Pointing out that HS2 provides a ‘pipeline of opportunities for the long term’, he said the organisation had 3 000 school and college students visit its stand at a skills exhibition in Birmingham earlier in November.‘There is nothing on HS2 that we have not done before in the UK’, he concluded, ‘it is the scale of the work that makes it a challenge.’last_img read more

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