Union leader: Teachers may walk out if forced into unsafe schools

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Teachers could go out on strike “as a last resort” if they are forced to return to unsafe schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten warned Tuesday.

The executive council of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers approved a resolution Friday giving AFT affiliates across the country authorization to stage strikes—even as President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are pushing schools to fully reopen even though school district leaders say they need massive federal funding to do so safely.

Weingarten gave a blistering speech at the organization’s annual convention, being held virtually this year, saying that Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic “has been chaotic and catastrophic,” and that DeVos has “zero credibility.”

“Let’s be clear: Just as we have done with our health-care workers, we will fight on all fronts for the safety of our students and their educators,” she said. “But if authorities don’t protect the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve, as our executive council voted last week, nothing is off the table—not advocacy or protests, negotiations, grievances or lawsuits, or, if necessary and authorized by a local union, as a last resort, safety strikes.”

School districts have been warning for months that they can’t reopen fully without billions of dollars in emergency federal funding. Congress included more than $13.5 billion for K-12 schools in its $2 trillion coronavirus emergency funding legislation that passed in March, but education leaders say that doesn’t come close to covering the cost of reopening schools with the added costs of COVID-19 protective measures.

A Democratic-led House bill passed recently calls for $58 billion in new funding for public K-12 schools – and the Republican majority in the Senate just released its plan for new pandemic spending, offering $70 billion for public and private schools. But two-thirds of that amount is linked to a mandate—sought by Trump and DeVos—that schools open their buildings to students. Such a linkage is opposed by Democrats.

Weingarten said 76% of her union’s members, polled last month, said they would return to a school building if there were appropriate safeguards – and districts say they need far more than Congress is proposing to do that.

The Council of Chief State School Officers, a nonprofit organization that represents public officials who head state departments of elementary and secondary education, sent a letter to Congress estimating that the cost of safely reopening schools this fall is estimated to be between $158.1 billion and $244.6 billion.

The AFT said in its resolution that it had calculated that roughly $400 billion is needed in federal funds to meet the needs of families and to ensure that schools and colleges are funded.

Some small districts in Tennessee, Mississippi and other states have started the school year, with in-person learning, but major school districts have opted to start online because of spiking COVID-19 rates.

Weingarten noted that Trump canceled the Republican presidential convention that was to be held in August in Jacksonville, Fla., because of skyrocketing COVID-19 rates in that state – but still insists that schools there open. Florida’s governor, Republican Ron DeSantis, a Trump supporter, has also called for schools to reopen five days a week for all students, but some districts in southern Florida, where COVID-19 rates are the highest in the world, are making their own decisions.

“What hypocrisy, to cancel the GOP convention in Jacksonville, Fla., because of the risks to GOP delegates gathering in that coronavirus hot spot, yet in the same breath demand that children and teachers gather in schools in that same hot spot,” Weingarten said in her speech.

The resolution, approved by AFT leadership, says in part:

“RESOLVED, that in the fight to ensure the safety and health of American Federation of Teachers’ members, our students and our communities, we will use every action and tool available to us from serving on state and local reopening committees to filing grievances, lawsuits and other actions against unsafe and unsound plans or the faulty implementation of plans. Nothing is off the table when it comes to the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve, including supporting local and/or state affiliate safety strikes on a case-by-case basis as a last resort . . .”

The education world was rocked by an unprecedented stretch of strikes and protests by teachers across the country that began in February 2018. That’s when teachers in West Virginia, where it is illegal for teachers to strike, walked out anyway, seeking a pay increase, help with high health-care costs and more school funding. That began the “Red for Ed” movement, in which teachers in Republican-led states went on strike for issues including low pay and health benefits and insufficient school funding. Teachers in Democratic-led states joined in too.

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19 thoughts on “Union leader: Teachers may walk out if forced into unsafe schools

  1. Show us cases of teachers being infected by their students. Worldwide, and that includes the ALL of the schools of Europe have shown NO instances where teachers are being infected by COVID 19.
    Teachers Union… get back to your normal activity of promoting Black Lives Matter and defunding police and let the children have their school.

  2. No one is surprised. This is just posturing for more excuses. Teachers aren’t held accountable for children’s performance, why would they actually have an interest to work at this point? They’d prefer to modify and erase history from their couches pretending to “virtually” work.

    1. Teachers aren’t accountable for children’s performance for the reason I stated below:
      *** Schools/classes move as fast as the slowest students ***
      And that includes students who have no interest in learning or doing, and that’s supported by the parents who don’t take an active interest in their children learning because the parents’ parents who didn’t take an active interest in their learning.
      Were you to hold teachers accountable by grading them on the performance of their top 10% of their classes, that would be a different story. When you have students who don’t give a rat’s posterior about what they do and there’s nothing the teacher can do to motivate them, why should the teachers be held accountable for the performance of those students?

  3. Republican bill would give school districts 2/3 of 70 billion (46.2 billion)if they reopen. Democratic bill would give 58 billion and not have to reopen. Who really thinks virtual learning will be better than in person for a 3rd grader? 4th grader?

    1. Well, Virginia, “it depends upon the 3rd grader or 4th grader.”
      My story aside: ***classes generally move as fast as the slowest student(s)***.
      Even the best teachers can only prod & engage those students so much, in person or virtually. They have a Master’s degree, not a magic wand.
      As far as how much money is involved, the Democrats’ plan would probably be used for lots of tech – infrastructure plus all of the equipment kids would need who can’t afford it. (Not to mention avoiding Zoom. Only idiots willingly use Zoom because it’s been compromised: technically and politically.) I wonder how many Republican Fat Cats stand to get rich because of the markup on the sale of the necessary tech?

  4. For those of you up on your high horse, can any of you say that you would willingly walk into an enclosed room filled will 30 hacking and sneezing kids during the middle of a pandemic? And can you guarantee that you won’t catch anything, even a cold? I didn’t think so.

    1. Thankfully, for those of us on our high horse, the situation you’ve described is complete fiction. There has been no situation of 30 hacking kids because kids virtually never show serious symptoms, and the symptoms for most healthy adults in the labor force are also minor. At a certain point, you have to don your big-kid britches and accept that taking initiative in life bears some risk. Are we supposed to remain out of school until we’ve eradicated this disease completely? That’s ridiculous. You are aware, I hope, that some school districts report that 25% of students haven’t tuned in to virtual classrooms even once (perhaps due to poverty and lack of access to wifi and streaming), meaning that potentially 1 out of 4 kids have had no schooling since March?
      Please do get back to us when you are willing to leave your bubble and re-engaged with a reality that has, and always will have, some germs and unpleasant critters.

    2. No Eric, what we should have done over the last three months is be serious about eliminating cases so we could open up schools and the economy. Like, you know, most every other country in the world did.

      But we didn’t have a real shutdown because someone cared more about their re-election than the health of the citizens he’s supposed to be serving, so cases are rising just like the scientists told us they would, and people are rightly nervous about jumping into a situation with a lot of unknowns. When you read headlines like “Scans Reveal Heart Damage in Over Half of COVID-19 Patients in Study“, you can’t make the case that you know enough to say it would be “minor” if someone got COVID. No one knows. If you want to take risks, fine, but you can’t dictate everyone else takes the same risks.

      Teachers signed up to be teachers, not martyrs. So if they don’t want to teach because they don’t feel safe, cut them some slack. I don’t know many parents who came out of 2-3 months of virtual learning thinking that teachers are lazy overpaid oafs.

      And since you don’t think I have any skin in the game, I am sending both of my kids back to school. My spouse and I are scared as hell and we’re hoping and praying we are making the right choice, both for their long-term health and our long-term health. I don’t fault anyone who doesn’t want to go back.

      And, one more thing. this time, no doxing if you reply, okay? Previous attempt was noted and reported.

    3. Joe: I’m not surprised about the medical findings — some of the leading physicians have been saying for months that CoVid-19 is more of a vascular disease than respiratory. Unfortunately, there are too many people who get their medical news from Captain Superlative…they figure they can turn Fox News into a one-stop shop for all of their news. Put something of quality like Scientific American in front of them and they wilt like a daisy.

  5. let the teachers who are in the high risk categories stay home and zoom in. they can have a proctor sit in the class to make sure the kids behave.

    kids get to go to school – teacher is still teaching. these kids have a larger chance of dying from the flu than covid.

  6. I see both sides of this issue but the bottom line is kids need to be in school for real learning to occur. If a teacher does not want to go back that is their choice and I respect that, but do not expect to get paid for staying home. That is very fair and reasonable. And stop blaming the current administration for the pandemic. Blame China not the rest of the world who are reacting to their irresponsibility. Politicizing this issue is not going to help one child or anyone else. I am a former teacher and empathize with the challenges the profession demands, but this idea of paying people to sit on their duffs does not cut it. We are broke and this entitlement attitude is killing our society.

  7. I’m rather shocked IBJ overlooked this little tidbit — I suppose they were focusing upon summarizing WashPost’s information instead of looking at the relevance to Indiana. None of the smart people posting here have pointed it out: Indiana teachers can’t strike. If any of them attempt to strike – according to the person I have talked to – they will have effectively resigned their position(s).
    As far as blaming the current administration, Captain Superlative is the one who declared it to be a hoax. He also denied being debriefed about it until it took a foothold in the US. Plenty of officials said he was notified at least as far back as October. He’s also the one [still] touting hydroxychloroquine.

  8. Eric has obviously never been in a classroom. And who cares if symptoms for most healthy adults are minor? If I get sick and die, that’s going to really give me a lot of comfort knowing that most other adults had symptoms that were minor. We’re not talking about a disease that gives you a hangnail. We’re talking about a disease that can kill you quite painfully. And if you’re willing to die for your job, then more power to you.