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Experts raise laundry list of concerns as debate continues over kids returning to the classroom

Experts raise laundry list of concerns as debate continues over kids returning to the classroom
Posted at 5:16 PM, Jul 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-23 08:48:24-04
(WXYZ) —

Are state, health and education leaders calling for enough to be done to protect children from COVID-19? Some say no.

Dr. Pamela L. Pugh, vice president of the Michigan State Board of Education, held a press conference on Wednesday. During it she presented a panel of education and environmental safety experts. They raised concerns that more needs to be done.

RELATED: State Board of Education discusses 'exposure risks' related to reopening Michigan schools

School leaders have described the challenge they are facing coming up with their own plans, specific to their districts. As they do so, they are relying on a hodge-podge of numerous, sometimes conflicting, recommendations from the CDC, state and local health authorities. Dr. Pugh says she is concerned that will lead to inequities in safety.

“Many of our schools have long been sacrifice zones and as I have stated over again, I can’t stand by idly and watch our children be subject to another failed experiment,” Dr. Pugh said.

“We want to work. We do not want to die,” said Lucida Walker, a Detroit Public Schools Community District Teacher, while presenting ideas during the press conference.

Some of the things she called for are regular COVID-19 testing, daily temperature tests, masks for all staff and students, class sizes that allow for social distancing, plastic separators for desks, and independent inspections of schools to ensure ventilation systems do not contribute to the spread of the virus.

“Our call to action understands that the building itself can accelerate or slow the spread of the virus,” said Claire Barnett, of the Coalition for Healthier Schools.

Barnett says older school buildings in disrepair will put children in poorer school districts at greater risk of getting COVID-19.

“Right now we are in a rush to open this economy," Pugh said. "So we are getting ready to cut corners again on the backs of our children and our educators who are the reason all of us are here today."

Pugh called on the federal and state leaders to do more to provide resources and guidance. The governor’s office responded saying that a task force of stakeholders developed the Michigan Safe Schools plan.

“While the bipartisan budget agreement that is advancing in the legislature this week includes over $500 million in resources for Michigan schools to keep students and educators safe, it is clear that Michigan will need additional resources from the federal government to support our local schools, which is why the governor has called on President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass the HEROES Act. We look forward to MDE and members of the Michigan State Board of Education playing an active leadership role in working with the state's 535 local school districts to ensure that every student has access to a safe, quality education this fall,” said the statement from the governor’s office.

State Supt. Dr. Michael Rice agreed that there are concerns about how building conditions could contribute to the spread of COVID-19.

“The state of our school buildings in the nation is a long-standing issue and will take a long-term solution with a national commitment to address. Rebuilding our nation’s school infrastructure will improve the quality of our schools for our children, staffs and communities,” Dr. Rice said. “The governor’s COVID-19 Task Force on Education, on which I served as an active member, and the Return to School Advisory Council worked to develop the MI Safe Schools plan. The plan balances public health and public education considerations at this challenging time. That said, it is critical that Congress quickly approve additional resources for our schools so that they are able to safely and effectively educate children this fall.”

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Michigan, a timeline of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Southeast Michigan, and links to more information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC and the WHO.

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

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