As stories of the spread of coronavirus continue to circulate in the media, teachers have turned to Facebook to complain about a purported shortage of cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer needed to combat the spread of COVID-19 in their schools and classrooms. Predictably, a few petty teachers have used the crisis to prolong their tiresome reproach of Republican leaders.
A teacher from Cumberland County complained, “I feel the state should be stocking classrooms with supplies such as hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes.”
“They never passed a budget. Most every system in the state is short funds already. This is more N.C. Senate malfeasance,” a teacher from Stanley County responded.
Teachers have also taken aim at outgoing Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson.
“Could have paid for it with all that money spent on Mark Johnson’s glossy propaganda,” a middle school teacher in New Hanover County complained.
An Onslow County teacher even found a way to slight Johnson for his decision to award a reading program contract to Istation. “We spent our emergency funds on iStation [sic],” he carped.
Think globally, act locally
While both the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Public Instruction offer information about COVID-19, neither state agency is using its resources to stock classrooms with hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes, or cleaning supplies. While state agencies and the General Assembly may be called upon to provide additional assistance if conditions worsen, district superintendents, school boards, and county commissions are the first line of defense in addressing the threat. According to the N.C. General Statutes, local school officials are responsible for maintaining safe and sanitary conditions in their school buildings.
It shall be the duty of every superintendent to visit the schools of his unit, to keep his board of education informed at all times as to the condition of the school plants in his administrative unit, and to make immediate provisions to remedy any unsafe or unsanitary conditions existing in any school building. (NCGS Chapter 115C-276)
It shall be the duty of local boards of education and tax-levying authorities, in order to safeguard the investment made in public schools, to keep all school buildings in good repair to the end that all public school property shall be taken care of and be at all times in proper condition for use. It shall be the duty of all principals, teachers, and janitors to report to their respective boards of education immediately any unsanitary condition, damage to school property, or needed repair. (NCGS Chapter 115C-524)
It was sensible for lawmakers to delegate this responsibility to county commissions and school districts, given that they are responsible for directing much of the state and local funding allocated for capital needs.
To their credit, proactive school districts and charter schools throughout the state have adopted sensible preventative measures. For example, WCCB reports that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials have instructed custodians to spend extra time cleaning and disinfecting schools, thereby reinforcing cleaning standards that may prevent the spread of COVID-19. CMS administrators have met with local and state officials to coordinate their responses and share information. District leaders also have suspended field trips and out-of-state staff travel to mitigate exposure to the virus.
Families and communities lend a hand
Every year, families spend hundreds of dollars to equip their children for school. According to the annual National Retail Federation survey, families with elementary, middle, and high school children will spend, on average, nearly $700 per household this school year on items for school, of which more than $117 will be spent on classroom supplies itemized on school supply lists.
When the concept was introduced in the late 1980s, supply lists included mostly conventional school supplies, such as pencils, paper, and calculators. But as parental compliance increased, the number of requested items also grew. Today, school supply lists commonly feature requests for hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes — specifically Clorox or Lysol because these brands are compliant with OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens standards. Guilford County Schools, for example, has a standard supply list for grades K-5 that asks families to provide one bottle of hand sanitizer and one container of disinfectant wipes per child.
Parents also contribute cleaning items during the school year. In Onslow County, Hunters Creek Elementary School’s Family Winter Dance asked families to bring a school supply with them to the dance, including tissues and disinfectant wipes. “My parents send it in. Lysol wipes, spray, paper towels, hand soap. When I ask, it always shows up the next day,” a teacher confirmed.
Churches, civic groups, and even politicians gather donations of various school supplies. During his annual Governor’s School Supply Drive, Gov. Roy Cooper asks North Carolinians contribute paper, USB flash drives, tissues, and sanitizing wipes. Some teachers even request these items (or funding for these items) through Donors Choose. A teacher at West Buncombe Elementary School in Asheville asks prospective donors, “Help me give my students baby wipes, tissues and disinfectant wipes to keep our classroom healthy and clean!”
If COVID-19 is not contained sufficiently, North Carolina’s public schools may require assistance from state agencies and the General Assembly. In the meantime, teachers should spend less time denouncing elected officials on social media and instead assist administrators and school boards in ongoing efforts to disseminate information and implement preventative measures that will keep children and public school employees safe.
Dr. Terry Stoops is vice president for research and director of Education Studies at the John Locke Foundation.