The presidents of the nation’s two major teachers ’unions separately called for a full return to face-to-face learning in the fall, and the leader of the American Federation of Teachers declared Thursday that his organization was“ total ”.
In an address on social media, Randi Weingarten said the wide availability of vaccines and a new infusion of money for federal education have removed many obstacles that prevented schools from opening.
“Conditions have changed,” Weingarten said. “We can and must reopen schools in the fall for face-to-face teaching, learning and support. And keep them open. Totally and safely, five days a week. ”
The National Education Association issued its own statement following Weingarten’s statements.
“The NEA supports having school buildings open to students for face-to-face instruction in the fall,” said group president Becky Pringle. “Educators will continue to lead the security of each school having what it needs to reopen completely in a safe and fair manner and ensure that the necessary resources exist to meet the academic, social and emotional needs of all students.”
If local unions heeded these calls, it would be seen as a big step in the effort to reopen schools. Teachers ’unions have been blamed for slowing down the process with demands for various security measures. Teachers in some districts have refused to return until ventilation systems are upgraded, virus testing is done, and all teachers are vaccinated.
Weingarten said vaccines have been the deciding factor in his vision for the reopening of the fall. In March, President Joe Biden ordered states to give priority to teachers in vaccine deployment, and by the end of this month, federal health officials said 80 percent of school workers had received the vaccine. first shot.
“I hear it from educators and I see it in our voting results,” the union leader said. “The fear of bringing the virus home diminishes by the time educators receive the shots.”
According to polls conducted by the union, 89% of the 1.7 million members have been completely vaccinated or want to be there, he said.
However, Weingarten does not suggest a quick return to the type of schooling students knew before the pandemic. He said schools should continue with mask requirements, social distancing, contact tracking and other measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s not risk-free,” Weingarten said. “But we can manage the threat by encouraging people to get vaccinated and following CDC guidelines.”
The union will continue to push 3 feet of space between students in classrooms, which the CDC recommended in March after reducing it by 6 feet. Weingarten said schools should work during the summer to “find the right space” to hold smaller classes throughout the school year.
His speech came after a unanimous vote by the union’s executive council that approved his message for the fall.
A $ 1.9 trillion aid package Biden signed in March included $ 123 billion to help schools reopen and recover from the pandemic. Weingarten, who supported Biden, wrote that his administration has been “fighting the pandemic with science, truth, transparency and, yes, money.”
“The United States will not return completely until we return to school. And my union is inside, ”he said.
Since February, the CDC says schools can safely reopen with certain security measures, but many of the country’s largest districts have remained mostly or entirely online. The latest federal data found that in March, 54% of public elementary and middle schools offered five days a week of face-to-face education to all students.
Even in districts that have reopened, many students have chosen to stay home, including a disproportionate proportion of non-white students. Weingarten suggests that schools create parent-teacher committees to address safety issues. That, along with continued security measures, would help rebuild trust with families, he said.
The union is also coming out with a $ 5 million campaign to push for the reopening of the fall. The group said it will reach out to teachers, families and communities to highlight the value of returning all students to the classroom. A local Pittsburgh union plans to go door-to-door talking about safety measures applied to schools. Other local groups are helping to operate vaccination clinics for students and families.
“When I tell you we’re all there,” says Weingarten, “we’re all here.”