Story at a glance
- Many officials are eager to reopen schools this fall despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
- The American Federation of Teachers is the second largest teacher's labor union in America.
- The union said it would support locally authorized “safety strikes" as a last resort for teachers forced to go back to work in unsafe conditions.
As school districts weigh the consequences of reopening schools this fall, the country's second largest teacher's union said it will back "safety strikes" if returning to school threatens the health and safety of teachers and students.
“Let’s be clear,” American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten said during their annual convention, held virtually this year. “Just as we have done with our health care workers, we will fight on all fronts for the safety of students and their educators. But if the 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.”
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In a resolution passed by their executive council, AFT said "nothing is off the table," including filing grievances, lawsuits or other actions, which could include locally authorized strikes on a case-by-case basis as a last resort.
The resolution also set out requirements for reopening school buildings: low infection rates and adequate testing, public health safeguards to help prevent the spread of the virus in schools, and the resources and funding to make it happen. Specific provisions include special accommodations or workplace adjustments for high-risk staff, hand-washing facilities, regular cleaning and sanitization of facilities and buses, updates to ventilation and building systems and physical distancing safeguards as well as face coverings.
Weingarten said that before the country was facing a resurgence of cases and prior to President Trump and Betsy DeVos's "open or else" threats, 76 percent of AFT members said they'd be comfortable returning to school buildings as long as proper safeguards and precautions were taken.
“Now they’re afraid and angry. Many are quitting, retiring or writing their wills. Parents are afraid and angry, too," Weingarten said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance this week on reopening for the upcoming school year, emphasizing the importance of physical attendance for students, with little discussion of any risks. President Trump had disagreed with the CDC's original guidelines earlier this month, calling them tough, expensive and impractical. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, told reporters that the new guidance was cleared by the White House and the opening statement was written at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
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