National teacher union supports strikes over reopening plans

National teacher union supports strikes over reopening plans

National teacher union supports strikes over reopening plans

One of the nation’s largest teachers unions is authorizing its members to strike if their schools plan to reopen without proper safety measures in the middle of the global pandemic.

The American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.7 million school employees, issued a resolution on Tuesday saying it will support any local chapter that decides to strike over reopening plans.

In providing its blessing, the union is also offering local chapters access to its financial and legal resources as they navigate a return to the classroom. Union officials said they will provide legal support, communications support and staffing to local chapters that vote to strike.

Although the measure says strikes should be considered only as a “last resort,” it lists conditions the organization wants met for schools to reopen. It says buildings should reopen only in areas with lower virus rates, and only if schools require masks, update ventilation systems and make changes to space students apart.

In announcing the measure, the union’s president blasted President Donald Trump for pressuring schools to reopen even as the virus continues to surge. Randi Weingarten called Trump’s response “chaotic and catastrophic,” saying it has left teachers afraid.

“We will fight on all fronts for the safety of our students and their educators,” Weingarten said. “But if authorities don’t protect the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve, as our executive council voted last week, nothing is off the table.”

The union’s leaders approved the resolution Friday but announced it Tuesday at the group’s convention, which is being hosted online amid the pandemic.

The nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, separately said its members will do “whatever it takes” to protect students.

“Nobody wants to see students back in the classroom more than educators, but when it comes to their safety, we’re not ready to take any options off the table,” the group’s president, Lily Eskelsen García, said in a statement.

For weeks, Trump has pressed for a full reopening of the nation’s schools. Last week he acknowledged that some schools may need to delay a return to in-person instruction, but he’s still asking Congress to withhold future virus relief to schools that fail to reopen.

Some of the nation’s largest public school districts are starting the school year online, including in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Houston.

The Chicago Teachers Union, which has clashed with the city over its school reopening plan, said on Tuesday that it isn’t ruling out a work stoppage.

“It’s long past time for our nation’s educators to come together and fight collectively for the common good — up to and including striking to ameliorate the social and economic inequalities at the root of the consequences of this insidious virus,” the union’s vice-president, Stacy Davis Gates, said in a statement.

Davis Gates said any safety strike would include broader demands to support front-line workers, to provide broadband access to every student, to ensure universal health care and to get “a hard commitment from public officials to protect Black and Brown lives, whose neighbourhoods are disproportionately bearing the burden of death and illness from COVID-19.”

In Massachusetts, nurses represented by the Boston Teachers Union are planning a sit-in at City Hall on Wednesday over the city’s reopening plan. The nurses are calling for rapid testing in schools to identify COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. They also want more protective equipment for nurses and teachers and assessments of air quality in school buildings, among other measures.

In Ohio’s largest district, about 2,700 Columbus City Schools educators had previously signed a letter calling on leaders to start the fall term online, with the union arguing that the stakes “are too high for experiments.”

They got their wish Tuesday as the district announced it will start the year with virtual learning for all students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

For other districts planning to reopen, the federation’s safety demands could be difficult to meet. The union says schools should open only in areas where the infection rate among those tested for the disease caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19, is below 5%, and where the transmission rate is below 1%. It also says local authorities must have plans to close schools if cases spike.

Along with mask requirements, the union is also pushing schools to keep people 6 feet apart, to keep buildings and buses clean, and to make accommodations for teachers at greater risk of health problems if they contract COVID-19.

For many schools, more funding will be needed to reopen safely, the union said. It estimates the average school will need at least $1.2 million, amounting to $116 billion nationwide. The resolution says Trump and Senate Republicans have “have failed to negotiate and pass a new stimulus bill to address the resources vitally needed for reopening our schools.”

The latest stimulus proposal from the White House and Senate Republicans includes $105 billion for schools and colleges, though some of the money is only for schools that reopen for in-person classes. In May, the Democratic-led House included $100 billion for schools — none of it limited to those holding on-site classes — but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said even more money is needed.

In her speech, Weingarten said teachers want schools to reopen. Children need in-person instruction, she said, adding that remote instruction is “no substitute for it.” But she said teachers need to know they’ll be kept safe.

Before Trump began pressing schools to reopen, she said, a union poll found that its members were comfortable returning if proper safeguards were in place.

“Now they’re afraid and angry,” she said. “Many are quitting, retiring or writing their wills.”

Along with strikes, the union said it will fight unsafe reopening plans through lawsuits and labour grievances. The union’s Florida chapter filed a lawsuit last week attempting to block the state’s plan to reopen schools, which the suit called “reckless and unsafe.”

___

Associated Press writer Kantele Franko in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.

Collin Binkley, The Associated Press

Education

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Wetaskiwin Composite High School. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
Wetaskiwin Regional Public Schools prepare for transition back to online learning

Grades 7-12 will are mandated to transfer to online learning starting Nov. 30, 2020.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said growing COVID-19 case numbers continue to be a concern in the province. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta announces 1,077 new COVID-19 cases Thursday

There are currently 14,052 active cases in the province

Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer
COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the City of Wetaskiwin

What the new provincial mandates mean for the County and City of Wetaskiwin.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said the 500 deaths from COVID-19 in the province are a tragic milestone. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta hits ‘tragic milestone’ with more COVID-19 deaths

Province up to 500 COVID-19 deaths, adds 1,265 cases

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council asks for a mask bylaw to be brought forward for consideration

The bylaw would require face coverings in all indoor Town-owned and operated facilities

The corporate headquarters of Pfizer Canada are seen in Montreal, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. The chief medical adviser at Health Canada says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could be approved in Canada next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Health Canada expects first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved next month

Canada has a purchase deal to buy at least 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine,

People wear face masks as they pose next to a Christmas display in Montreal, Sunday, November 22, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
How to tell family their Christmas gathering is too risky and you’re not going

Dr. Hurst says it’s best to frame the conversation from a place of care, stressing safety precautions.

A sign instructs people to wear masks in downtown Calgary on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. Pub and restaurant owners are trying to figure out how to comply with a stricter COVID-19 measure in Alberta that dictates only six people from the same household can sit at one table. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Brewpub owner pleased Alberta not closing sit-down dining as COVID-19 cases soar

Alberta’s caseload of COVID-19 infections has been growing for weeks

This undated photo issued by the University of Oxford shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
Canada can make vaccines, just not the ones leading the COVID-19 race

Canada has spent more than $1 billion to pre-order seven different developing COVID-19 vaccines

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at B.C. campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

A pedestrian wears masks while out walking in front of the Alberta Legislature as the COVID-19 numbers spike in Edmonton on Tuesday November 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Doctor says Alberta restrictions not enough to reduceCOVID-19 strain on hospitals

Mithani notes people are still allowed to gather indoors at large places of worship and in bars,

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in first few months of 2021, prime minister says

Most Read