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Teachers Union: Reopen Schools this Fall

AFT's Weingarten said reopening is a time to "reimagine public education"

Kris LaGrange's picture
May 14, 2021

After a year and a half of remote or hybrid learning, the President of the nation’s two largest teachers' unions are calling for schools to be fully reopened to in-person learning in the fall.

In an address on social media, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said that the widespread availability of vaccines and a new infusion of education money from the federal government has removed many obstacles that kept schools closed to in-person learning.

“Conditions have changed,” Weingarten said. “We can and we must reopen schools in the fall for in-person teaching, learning, and support. And keep them open. Fully and safely, five days a week.”

After Weingarten’s remarks, the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest education union, released a statement saying “NEA supports school buildings being open to students for in-person instruction in the fall,” said the group's president, Becky Pringle. “Educators will continue to lead in making sure each school has what it needs to fully reopen in a safe and just way and to ensure the resources exist to meet the academic, social and emotional needs of all students.”

Gaining the support of teachers' unions is an important step in returning to full in-person classes. The teachers were often blamed for keeping schools closed or in a hybrid learning model, but the unions rightfully made the case that districts weren’t doing enough to protect their teachers. Now with nearly half of the country getting at least one shot of the vaccine and case rates steadily decreasing, the risk of teachers getting sick has dropped dramatically.

“Educators have yearned to be back in school, with their students. They only asked for two things—a safe workplace during this pandemic and the resources they and their students need to succeed.” Weingarten said, “The United States will not be fully back until we are fully back in school. And my union is all in.”

Weingarten also argued for a reimaging of education. “We must put in place the supports to help students recover—socially, emotionally, and academically. And we must reimagine teaching and learning to focus on what sparks students’ passion, builds confidence, nurtures critical thinking, and brings learning to life—so all children have access to the opportunities that give them the freedom to thrive. We can seed a renaissance in America’s public schools that will change young people’s lives and change the course of our country.”

The remarks come just a day after the AFT released a poll that showed 73% of the nation’s parents want school to fully reopen in the Fall. This number jumps to 94% when parents are told about the AFT’s reopening plan that includes layered mitigation strategies, testing, and vaccinations.

“I’ve been in constant contact with parents’ groups and caregivers this year,” said Weingarten. “If COVID has taught us anything, it’s how essential in-school learning is, and how vital the supports and resources are for returning. School is where kids work together and play together. And parents rely on schools, not only to educate their kids but also so they can work and live their lives.”

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