As the planned reopening of U.S. schools draws near, the GAO conducted physical inspections, which led to the discovery of faulty school facilities. The findings revealed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirmed apprehensions voiced by teachers and parents regarding the safety of resuming face-to-face classes this fall, even while the COVID-19 crisis is still ongoing.
Prior to carrying out the inspections, the GAO had conducted surveys throughout the country’s school districts. Survey results disclosed that a great number of respondents voiced the need to upgrade and/or replace multiple systems in K12 school buildings to ensure protection against risks of COVID-19 infection. Otherwise, teachers who aired such concerns, have no plan of going back when school reopens this fall.
Major Concerns Aired by Teachers via GAO Surveys
Majority of the members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers had raised concerns about the immediate reopening of K12 schools. The main problem is that even without the current pandemic crisis, the state of Philadelphia’s school systems are not in good conditions.
The quality of air inside school buildings is a grave concern, since windows hardly open to permit proper air circulation and appropriate ventilation.
While many of Philadelphia school teachers commented about non-working faucets in school restrooms, others also pointed out that even if sink faucets are working, they can still be potential carriers of coronavirus. Having to hold faucets again after had washing cannot be considered as thorough cleaning.
A Philadelphia school teacher wrote
“I know teachers cannot stay home forever — but Philadelphia’s schools are woefully underprepared in many respects, although through no fault of their own.” “ However, in dealing with the future challenges that schools have to face, sacrificing actual human lives just because a number of people are becoming antsy, is something I will not personally be a part of.”
According to GAO, the problems aired are not unique to Philadelphia alone because more than half of the country’s 13,000 school districts have voiced the same concerns.
Based on the results of the government watchdog’s nationwide inspections, more than forty percent of all U.S. school districts are in need of upgrades or replacement of air conditioning, ventilation and heating systems. If left unaddressed, about 36,000 schools nationwide are bound to face problems related to poor indoor air quality and related problems like mold formations.
The GAO report further explained that part of the problems concerning faulty HVAC systems is that they exist in old buildings; citing a 100-year old Rhode Island school as example.
In Michigan, officials in one of the state’s school districts said that around 60% of the school buildings in the region do not have air conditioning systems; while there is one Michigan school that still relies on heating provided by an antique boiler that originated in 1920s.
The GAO report therefore, expands the list of things that school administrators must first do, when pursuing plans of reopening in the wake of the COVID-19 health crisis.