Blog

Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.

Education

Trump Administration Guidance Says School Staff Are ‘Critical’ Workers

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 21, 2020 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

UPDATED

The Trump administration has released nonbinding guidance that teachers and other school staff are “critical infrastructure workers” as it pushes for schools to resume in-person classes this school year.

In a document issued Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, teachers and others in the K-12 education field are identified as part of a long list of “essential” workers “who conduct a range of operations and services that are typically essential to continued critical infrastructure viability” and who “support crucial supply chains and enable functions for critical infrastructure.”

The agency’s section about education includes a wide range of school staff, from teachers, paraeducators, and mental health professionals, to cafeteria workers, crossing guards, librarians, and superintendents.

In a cover letter preceding the guidance, CISA Director Christopher C. Krebs stressed that the guidance is advisory and should not be taken as a federal “directive” or “standard.” Krebs went on to say that state, local, territorial, and tribal governments “are responsible for implementing and executing response activities in their communities, while the Federal Government is in a supporting role.”

Whether to officially declare that teachers are essential workers is a complex and politically fraught decision. A few states and some school districts have done so, and there’s been backlash from teachers. Read more about this issue in our colleague Maddy Will’s story.

And in a related issue, school districts must figure out which teachers qualify for medical exemptions from having to return to classrooms.

Here’s the list of workers in the education field included in the CISA guidance:

• Workers who support the education of preschool, K-12, college, university, career and technical education, and adult education students, including professors, teachers, teacher aides, special education and special needs teachers, ESOL teachers, paraeducators, apprenticeship supervisors, and specialists.
• Workers who provide services necessary to support educators and students, including but not limited to, administrators, administrative staff, IT specialists, media specialists, librarians, guidance counselors, school psychologists and other mental health professions, school nurses and other health professionals, and school safety personnel.
• Workers who support the transportation and operational needs of schools, including bus drivers, crossing guards, cafeteria workers, cleaning and maintenance workers, bus depot and maintenance workers, and those that deliver food and supplies to school facilities.
• Workers who support the administration of school systems, including school superintendents and their management and operational staff.
• Educators and operational staff facilitating and supporting distance learning.

The CISA guidance states the list of critical infrastructure workers in education, health care, public safety, and other employment sectors “is intended to be overly inclusive reflecting the diversity of industries.” It says school staff were not included in previous guidance about critical workers because schools were “presumed to be closed at the time of publication.”

The guidance also stresses that “the ability of essential workers to work safely” is crucial, and says identifying workers who could potentially work from home is one strategy to consider.

In response to the guidance, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García “is trying to extort educators into recklessly reopening that risks lives” and should instead work to provide badly needed coronavirus relief.

Pressure for Schools to Reopen Buildings

The Trump administration has made it clear that reopening face-to-face classes in a new school year should be a top national priority, as concerns persist about the economy’s ability to recover if many parents must stay home with children who are learning remotely.

Over the last several weeks, President Donald Trump and other administration officials have campaigned repeatedly for schools to resume in-person classes. Trump has criticized remote learning and threatened to pull money from schools that only hold remote learning, even though he lacks any clear power to do so.

However, he’s also acknowledged that schools in coronavirus “hot spots” may need to delay reopening their buildings. And he’s said that older and other vulnerable educators should not be forced to come into buildings.

Although Congress and the White House agree on the idea that schools need additional federal funding to help them address the pandemic, negotiations over a new virus relief package that includes K-12 aid have ground to a halt.


Follow us on Twitter @PoliticsK12. And follow the Politics K-12 reporters @EvieBlad @Daarel and @AndrewUjifusa.

Related Tags:

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP