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Weingarten: No Perfect Solution to Reopening Schools

AFT members support reopening schools, but it must be done safely

Brian Young's picture
Feb 22, 2021

It has been nearly a year since schools were forced to close due to the pandemic. In some areas of the country, schools have reopened for full in-person learning or hybrid learning. Other districts are still only doing remote learning.

President Biden has said that reopening schools for in-person learning is a top priority for his administration in the first 100 days in office. To establish some guidelines for reopening, the Biden administration had the CDC release a set of reopening guidelines on February 12th. These guidelines include advising school officials on important safety procedures including masking, physical distancing, hand-washing, and respiratory etiquette, ventilation and building cleaning, and contact tracing.

Biden is getting support for reopening schools from Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). On NBC’s Meet the Press, Weingarten told host Chuck Todd that her union wants to get as much in person learning done as possible right now.

"I want to debunk this myth that teacher unions, at least our union, doesn't want to reopen schools," Weingarten told Todd. "Teachers know that in-person education is really important. We would have said that pre-pandemic. We knew remote education is not a good substitute. If the NFL could figure out how to do this in terms of testing and the protocols, if schools are that important, let's do it. My members want it. They just want to be safe."

Weingarten said that the new CDC guidance provides a sorely needed roadmap to reopen schools that increases testing to stop asymptomatic spread and prioritize teachers to get the vaccine. Currently only about half of the states have prioritized teachers for getting the vaccine. While noting that there is no perfect solution for reopening schools, she did highlight a few examples of districts that reopened the right way.

"But New York City has done a pretty good job in terms of showing the way," she said. She also pointed to the District of Columbia, which she said "actually made sure that every teacher and school employee that wanted the vaccine got vaccinated in the last few weeks," as well as Oregon, West Virginia and Ohio.

As UCOMM previously reported, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which represents teachers in New York City, took a lead role in getting vaccines for their members once New York expanded their vaccine eligibility requirements to cover teachers. Weingarten previously served as the President of the UFT. New York City schools have been reopened for in-person learning since mid-September. While they have periodically faced shutdowns due to increasing cases, they have largely been open throughout the school year.

According to Weingarten, a poll of AFT members showed that 85% would be comfortable returning to in-person learning if mitigation efforts similar to those in New York City were followed. The polling also showed that 40% of the members support hybrid teaching which is a mix of in-person and remote learning and another 24% support full in-person learning.

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