Alabama teachers concerned about safety as they return to school during COVID-19 pandemic

Alabama News
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — On Monday, Gov. Kay Ivey awarded $70 million to support the Alabama State Department of Education’s Education Health and Wellness Grant Program and $100 million to support the Educational Remote Learning Devices Grant Program.

Alabama received approximately $1.9 billion of federal money through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to respond to and mitigate COVID-19 issues. Alabama Act 2020-199 designated up to $250 million of the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) to be used to support the delivery of health care and related services to citizens of Alabama related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Education Health and Wellness Grant Program will provide $70 million directly to local education agencies for the sole purpose of minimizing the exposure and spread of COVID-19 in Alabama’s public-school system. Local education agencies may only use the grant funds to:

  • Fund salaries or wages for health care professionals or aides to provide COVID-19 response or care,
  • Contract for specimen collection and testing of COVID-19,
  • Temporary facility improvements and supplies for nurses’ work areas for COVID-19 response,
  • The creation of isolation areas for symptomatic students,
  • Screening equipment to check body temperature,
  • Modification of school transportation vehicles to mitigate or isolate the spread of COVID-19.

Each local education agency applying for reimbursement under the Education Remote Learning Devices Grant Program, prior to expending funds, must provide the Alabama State Department of Education:

  • a remote learning plan compatible with the devices to be purchased,
  • information to ensure teachers and instructors are proficient with the operations of the device including technical support,
  • a plan developed by each school to ensure each student has access or availability to the internet, and a plan for maintenance of the devices, including software updates, physical repairs, and replacement of lost and damaged devices.

Funds will be awarded to local education agencies based on a formula that accounts for student enrollment, poverty levels, special education students, English learner students, student proficiency levels and the impact of COVID-19.

Rubie Moore, an elementary school librarian in Birmingham, shared some of her concerns about returning to the classroom.

“I’m very concerned, I’ve had pneumonia this spring, bronchitis twice, and tonsillitis and none of that was fun,” Moore said.

Moore said she wants to return to work in a few weeks, and like most educators she missed her students.

“So we want to be at work. The only thing that we desire is safety for everybody,” she said.

That safety now rest on the shoulders of state school superintendent Eric Mackey, who’s defending his original plan.

“You have to layout all the options for folks, give them good guidance, but allow local communities to make the best decisions for themselves,” Mackey said.

However, the plan was widely criticized by state lawmakers who wanted more safety guidelines. Through the CARES Act, the governor is signing on to lawmakers’ request.

“Really all this does is it gives districts the funding to go back and implement those parts of the roadmap without having to go into their local fund,” he said.

Mackey is encouraging parents to get their children into a routine of wearing a mask before school starts. He is also urging schools to require face coverings when it is appropriate.

“Certainly most of the children we think will be wearing face coverings and they should be, we’re going to see social distancing, physical distancing throughout the school, it’s going to look and feel different than it has in the past,” he said.


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