GlenEva Dunham: State, feds have not done enough to make schools safe

  • Comments
  • Print

Should teachers be required to return to the classroom during the pandemic?

While teachers definitely want to return to schools, those schools must be safe.

At its recent annual convention held virtually, American Federation of Teachers members across the nation resolved to “use every action and tool available” providing resources and tools with the goal of “securing safe conditions for all students and school staff.” The Indiana affiliate of AFT—AFT Indiana—supports the resolution for safety strikes. Teachers must know that returning to school will be safe.

Here’s where we stand. AFT Indiana recognizes that students are best served in person; teachers, parents, students and administrators want and need to go back to school. But going back to school must be done safely. Dr. Anthony Fauci has stated that doing this safely requires:

1. That the virus is under control—this includes testing, tracing and isolation.

2. That safeguards are embedded in schools, including the proper personal protective equipment.

3. That educators and schools have the resources to do all of this.

It is not just one of these measures, but all of them together, that matters. That means putting our money where our priorities are.

Indiana’s public schools have not been a top priority for the supermajority of the General Assembly. Our public schools were scraping the barrel for dollars and resources before the COVID-19 crisis. Gov. Eric Holcomb has promised funds to our public schools, but all we have received are commissions and studies.

Returning to school safely costs money. Members of AFT Indiana, along with our national AFT, strongly support the passing of the HEROES Act that has stalled in the U.S. Senate. There are dollars in this bill to assist schools all over the country to reopen safely. Schools need these resources.

Additional resources must be provided by the federal government. Yet the president of the United States and his secretary of education arbitrarily spew threats to cut funding during this pandemic; this only adds to school insecurity. Members of AFT Indiana will not be threatened or bullied into returning to situations that are not safe. Our lives as well as our children’s lives are at stake because we do know that COVID-19 kills.

So, should teachers be required to return to unsafe schools? Some school districts in Indiana have attempted to reopen schools. Administrators have run through the checklist. They have disinfected the buildings, provided proper PPE, arranged desks 6 feet apart (impossible in most buildings), provided hand sanitizer, stockpiled face coverings, encouraged students and staff to wash their hands, plus attempted to practice social distancing.

Even so, on day one, there have been COVID-19 cases in multiple AFT Indiana affiliates with additional cases being reported daily.

Now add to that the latest attack by Indiana’s supermajority, who’ve taken a page from Trump’s playbook by threatening to cut 15% of funding to those districts offering a safe, virtual alternative. We salute the Black Lives Matter movement and honor the words of late congressman John Lewis: AFT Indiana stands for “good trouble.”•


Dunham is president of the Indiana chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. Send comments to

Click here for more Forefront columns.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

3 thoughts on “GlenEva Dunham: State, feds have not done enough to make schools safe

  1. So I’m assuming you and those that don’t want to go back to work until it’s “safe” are not ordering from Amazon, grocery shopping, doing any kind of banking, ordering takeout, filling up your gas tank, or having your trash emptied?

    All those services have required workers to assume risk so as to allow you to continue not to work.

    Society is a sharing of burden. Teachers (and the rest of those “working from home”) need to realize the hypocrisy of their Do As I Say, Not As I Do lifestyle.

    Don’t want to go back to work? Fine. Leave the city and go live in a cave by yourself.

    Until then, realize that you only are able to exist because those that needed to, went back to work, while the rest of you held our children hostage, and destroyed our downtown economy.

  2. Well said Ted K. I am a former teacher and love and respect those in the profession but the fear of what might be is warping the way this issue is being handled in our nation. It is my hope that people will do their due diligence and research, take the needed precautions, do things to safeguard their health, and use common sense in living their life as best they can. Cowering in fear is not the answer and the children desperately need to be in school. I have no use for unions and never joined when I taught. I do not like the way they operate and feel over time they have declined in value and do more harm than good.