The United States’ second-largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, has come out in support of teachers striking in order to oppose COVID-related school reopening plans.
According to the Associated Press, the AFT gave its support for the strikes last Friday and offered its affiliates “access to its financial and legal resources as they navigate a return to the classroom.”
In noting conditions needed for a “safe” reopening — mandatory masks, student spacing, updated ventilation systems — the union noted strikes should only be used “as a last resort.”
The AFT represents 1.7 million school employees.
The country’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, didn’t explicitly join its sister organization in supporting strikes, but did say it “will do ‘whatever it takes’ to protect students,” and that it won’t “take any options off the table.”
For other districts planning to reopen, the federation’s safety demands could be difficult to meet. The union says schools should open only in areas where the infection rate among those tested for the disease caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19, is below 5%, and where the transmission rate is below 1%. It also says local authorities must have plans to close schools if cases spike.
Along with mask requirements, the union is also pushing schools to keep people 6 feet apart, to keep buildings and buses clean, and to make accommodations for teachers at greater risk of health problems if they contract COVID-19.
For many schools, more funding will be needed to reopen safely, the union said. It estimates the average school will need at least $1.2 million, amounting to $116 billion nationwide. The [AFT] resolution says Trump and Senate Republicans have “have failed to negotiate and pass a new stimulus bill to address the resources vitally needed for reopening our schools.”
AFT President Randi Weingarten said that before President Trump “began pressing schools to reopen,” federation members were in favor of returning for in-person instruction with proper safeguards. Now, however, teachers are “afraid and angry” with “many are quitting, retiring or writing their wills.”
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