( by Louis Toffoli )
As schools in the U.S return to in-class settings, many teachers have realized that they lack meaningful government support to keep their students safe. Essential PPE (personal protection equipment) like facemasks, hand sanitizers, and cleaning supplies aren’t provided for most teachers.
With the lack of government support, teachers have to purchase PPE using their own money to clean their classrooms and protect their students. So, why are teachers in the United States getting such little support?
We will be taking a look at what teachers face while returning to an in-class setting and why they are forced to pay for PPE in classrooms themselves in the U.S.
Government Guidelines for Schools
In a guide for K-12 teachers, the CDC provided an in-depth overview of preventing the spread of COVID-19 in classrooms. Included in this guide was the mandated use of PPE for both teachers and students in the class. When used with social distancing and other proven strategies, there was a significant decline in positive cases and virus outbreaks.
With such strong opinions on the use of PPE from an official government source, why don’t school districts provide them for teachers? In a poll conducted by the Hart Research Associates for the American Federation of Teachers, 88% of teachers had purchased PPE for their classroom.
The lack of supplies has left many teachers questioning the reopening of schools and its effect on their students’ safety. However, the reasoning behind the lack of assistance is ultimately due to the government being underprepared.
FEMA and Schools
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is a government agency that funds programs to help those affected by disasters such as pandemics, wildfires, or hurricanes. FEMA is also the leading government distributor of PPE items such as cloth facemasks and sanitation supplies.
In its current state, FEMA has classified schools as a non-emergency setting and chooses to put its focus primarily on providing medical settings with PPE supplies. With their sole focus on medical settings, FEMA has made it clear they will not be reimbursing school districts for PPE because it is seen as “increasing operating costs.”
With an already limited budget and supply of PPE items for hospitals, FEMA has chosen to put most of their funding into keeping up with the enormous demand.
As a result, educators across the United States are left with no other choice but to purchase PPE items with their money. School districts are unable to receive the necessary funding to create an effective PPE program. However, teachers paying for supplies out of pocket isn’t a new phenomenon in the United States.
Self-Funded School Supplies
According to statistics provided by the U.S Department of Education, public school teachers in America spend an average of $500 on school supplies each year. With 94% of all public school teachers spending some of their own money on school supplies.
These supplies include everything from pencils to books for their classroom. All of the money for the supplies coming directly out of the teacher’s pocket. While this isn’t a new issue facing teachers, it is becoming more relevant as teachers struggle to pay for both school supplies and PPE.
With the added financial stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers have become increasingly frustrated with their school districts. As mentioned in the previous section, schools have become underfunded on a federal level and cannot afford to reimburse their teachers for supplies.
Currently, teachers are learning how to face a pandemic in school and fighting to keep their classrooms safe with limited supplies and those they bought themselves. While this has caused many to feel underappreciated, there is optimism in the air for those looking to get help with PPE supplies.
The government has started to shift its view of schools as a non-emergency setting and have improved supplying industries with PPE. So, while things may look unpromising now, there will be new state government funding on the way for PPE supplies for schools soon.