The presidents of the country’s two major teacher unions separately called for a full return to face-to-face learning in the fall, with the head of the American Federation of Teachers saying her organization was “all-in” on Thursday.
In a speech on social media, Randi Weingarten said the widespread availability of vaccines and a new infusion of federal education funds had removed many of the barriers that prevented schools from opening.
“The conditions have changed,” said Weingarten. “We can and must reopen schools in the fall to teach, learn and support personally. And keep it open. Full and safe five days a week. “
According to Weingarten, the National Education Association issued its own declaration.
“NEA supports school buildings that are open to students for face-to-face lessons this fall,” said group president Becky Pringle. “Educators will continue to lead the way in ensuring that each school has what it needs to reopen fully in a safe and equitable manner, and ensuring that the resources are in place to meet academic, social and emotional needs to meet all students. “
If local unions follow these demands, it would be seen as a big step in the effort to reopen schools. The teacher unions were accused of slowing down the process and called for a variety of security measures. Teachers in some districts have refused to return until ventilation systems have been updated, virus tests run and all teachers vaccinated.
Weingarten said vaccines were the key factor behind her vision of reopening in the fall. President Joe Biden ordered states in March to give teachers priority in introducing vaccinations, and by the end of that month, federal health officials said 80% of school employees had received their first shot.
“I hear it in the voices of educators and see it in our poll results,” said the union leader. “The fear that they will bring the virus home will decrease once the educators get the chance.”
According to polls by the union, 89% of its 1.7 million members have been or want to be fully vaccinated, she said.
Even so, Weingarten is not proposing a quick return to the kind of schoolchildren known before the pandemic. She said schools should continue to adhere to mask requirements, social distancing, contact tracing, and other measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s not risk-free,” said Weingarten. “But we can address the threat by encouraging people to get vaccines and following instructions from the CDC.”
The union will continue to push for 3 feet of space between students in classrooms, which the CDC recommended in March after being reduced from 6 feet. Weingarten said schools should work over the summer to “find enough space” to entertain smaller classes throughout the school year.
Her address came after a unanimous vote by the union’s executive council approving her message for the autumn.
A $ 1.9 trillion aid package that Biden signed in March included $ 123 billion to help schools reopen and recover from the pandemic. Weingarten, who endorsed Biden, wrote that his government had “fought the pandemic with science, truth, transparency and, yes, money”.
“The United States will not be fully back until we are fully back in school. And my union is all in, ”she said.
The CDC has been saying since February that schools can be safely reopened with certain security measures, but many of the country’s largest counties have remained largely or entirely online. According to the latest federal data, 54% of public elementary and middle schools offered all students five days a week face-to-face tuition in March.
Even in reopened districts, many students have chosen to stay home, including a disproportionate proportion of non-white students. Weingarten suggests that schools set up committees made up of parents and teachers to address safety issues. This, along with continued security measures, would help restore confidence in the families, she said.
The union also launches a $ 5 million campaign to push for a reopening this fall. The group said it will reach out to teachers, families, and communities to highlight the value of getting all students back into class. A local union in Pittsburgh plans to go door-to-door talking about safety measures in schools. Other local groups help run vaccination clinics for students and families.
“If I tell you that we are all there,” says Weingarten, “we are all there.”
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