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Teachers Will Strike if Trump Forces School ReOpen

Unions say teachers will refuse to put kids health on the line

Kris LaGrange's picture
Apr 29, 2020

On a call with the nation’s Governors on Monday, Trump suggested that states consider reopening schools before the end of the year, saying “Many are thinking about their school system. Not a long way to go in the school system right now for this season, for this year. But I think you'll see a lot of schools open up, even if it’s for a very short period of time,” Trump said.

With 43 states as well as the District of Columbia suggesting that schools stay closed for the rest of the school year, this statement surprised many. In response, the two largest teachers unions in the country, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), pushed back on reopening schools before it is safe to do so. AFT President Randi Weingarten told POLITICO if schools are reopened without proper safety measures, “you scream bloody murder and you do everything you can to ... use your public megaphones.”

Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association followed those comments up by telling POLITICO that teachers are united after multiple strikes over the past few years and that they have tremendous power as advocates for children’s safety. When asked if this meant teachers could go on strike if schools reopen before it is safe to do so, Eskelsen Garcia did not rule out a strike saying “You put all things on the table when it comes to student safety,” Eskelsen García said. "And ... I don't think we'll be alone."

Some of that power was shown in places like New York City were government officials were hesitant to close schools in March. However, teachers began speaking out about the danger they were in as well as the danger students would face, forcing NY Governor Andrew Cuomo to step in and close schools statewide.

Instead of rushing to reopen schools, Weingarten said funding is needed for a host of public health measures for schools, including personal protective equipment. Collective bargaining, strong enforcement of safety standards, and protections from retaliation will also be important for teachers and staff so they feel safe to speak up as schools try new approaches. Absent a vaccine the AFT believes five criteria need to be met to protect the health and safety of the students and the teachers. These include a decline in cases over 14 days; adequate testing, tracing and isolation; public health measures like temperature taking, cleaning protocols, personal protective equipment and physical distancing measures such as staggered school times; transparency and fidelity to safety measures and enforcement; and increased funding to implement the host of changes. With changes to the work schedule, the NEA is also saying that contracts may need to be renegotiated to compensate teachers for added work time.

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