Teachers should consider striking if schools don’t require masks and fall short on other steps to ensure health and safety, the nation’s second-largest teachers union said Tuesday, adding pressure to schools already facing Republicans’ calls to reopen.
The American Federation of Teachers’ executive council decided in a vote last week that “nothing is off the table—not advocacy or protests, negotiations, grievances or lawsuits, or, if necessary and authorized by a local union, as a last resort, safety strikes,” President Randi Weingarten said in a speech to members Tuesday.
Elected officials and educators are debating the merits of resuming in-person classes at schools in the fall. The White House and Republicans in Congress have called for schools to reopen campuses, while Democrats and many K-12 education groups have said local officials should make decisions based on health conditions.
A Senate GOP coronavirus package proposed Monday included $70 billion for K-12 schools, with two-thirds of that money reserved for schools that offer at least partial instruction in person in the fall. Democrats have said any proposal that uses federal aid to pressure schools to reopen is a nonstarter.
Conditions for Reopening
Three conditions should be met before K-12 schools plan to reopen, Weingarten said. There must be low infection rates and adequate testing in areas that the school serves. Public health safeguards such as mask mandates, hand washing, and accommodations for at-risk individuals must be in place. Schools must also have adequate resources to carry out health safeguards and address students’ academic and emotional needs.
“Because states have been so badly hit, federal resources are absolutely essential,” she said. “And parents, students, school staff and their unions have to be involved, not sidelined.”
Weingarten said there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to school reopening but the AFT estimates that, on average, schools need $2,300 per student to reopen safely. The Republican plan would provide $1,200 per student.