AFT’s Weingarten says there’s ‘no way’ for all schools to reopen in the fall
By TIM ROWDEN
St. Louis Public School District (SLPS) teachers, former teachers, parents and activists took part in a silent protest in front of the district’s main office on 11th Street in downtown St. Louis to express their concerns about reopening schools.
The teachers are represented by the American Federation of Teacher (AFT) Local 420, which is working with a St. Louis Public Schools committee to address health and safety concerns.
“How will we safely get them to the school? How will we get them to the building?” Ribbon Williams, who has been with the district for five years, said. “They have to catch buses, they have to walk to school. Who is going to be taking temperatures and monitoring students before they get to the school?”
AFT’s Byron Clemens said teachers and the district are considering staggering classrooms and times to keep contact lower, and holding class outside when possible.
“The political winds that are blowing – open for economic reasons, for or against masks – those are NOT a concern of this union,” Clemens said.
“Our concern is for children’s safety and employees’ safety. We certainly understand why people are concerned. Our guiding principle for any plan must be that schools open safely.” Superintendent Dr. [Kelvin] Adams agrees that this is going to have to be an evolving plan.”
‘NO WAY’ FOR SCHOOLS TO REOPEN SAFELY
AFT National President Randi Weingarten says there’s “no way” for all schools to fully reopen safely in the fall.
“Teachers all throughout America know it’s important to get our kids back to school, at least in the hybrid model, and my union is trying to do this every day,” Weingarten said.
Weingarten says schools would need massive funding in order to safely continue operating under public health standards. The School Superintendents Association estimates the necessary protective measures in schools would cost an average of about $1.8 million per school district.
Educators want to get back into their classrooms, Weingarten said, but many school districts are “immobilized” due to budget cuts.
(See related Opinion piece by NEA President Lily Eskelsen García)
THREATS AND DENIAL
The Trump administration has been adamant about reopening schools in the fall, but rather than provide schools with additional funding to comply with new federal health guidelines, President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have threatened to withhold funding to schools that do not fully reopen.
Speaking on “The Story” on Fox News July 15, DeVos appeared to disregard parents’ concerns about sending their children back to school, and disregard for the public health science that should be applied in determining how and when schools can safely reopen.
“As we talk about schools reopening again, it seems to be centered more around adult needs and issues than it is about what’s right for kids,” DeVos said. “Certainly, we all want school to be safe for kids, but the reality is, the science tells us that being in school is safe for children.”
It doesn’t, not as the pandemic continues unabated, but Trump remains adamant.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Thursday: “The president has said unmistakably that he wants schools to open. And when he says open, he means open in full, kids being able to attend each and every day at their school. The science should not stand in the way of this.”
MORE FUNDING NEEDED
Weingarten said AFT is pushing for Senate passage of the HEROES Act, which includes more federal funding to help schools reopen safely.