By TIM ROWDEN
As COVID-19 infections surge throughout the region and the nation, AFT St. Louis Local 420, the union representing teachers and school-related personnel in the St. Louis Public Schools, is calling for city schools to proceed with 100 percent virtual learning through the winter break.
The union has also called on Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to issue a mandatory mask order to slow the spread of the virus.
Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said everyone in the St. Louis area needs to do their part to avoid a collapse of the region’s health care system.
“We’re entering a really critical phase in our war right now,” Garza said, “a phase where we’re going to need any and all efforts to prevent the health care system from collapsing and to save as many lives as we can in our community.”
Even with the promise of a vaccine on the horizon, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a livestream video last week with Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), that the U.S. remains deep in the middle of a public health crisis and risks experiencing a “surge upon a surge.”
“Now that we’re in the mid-to -late fall, merging on into the winter, we’ve seen, because of a variety of circumstances, a surge that has really surpassed the others,” Fauci said.
AFT 420 RESPONDS
AFT Local 420 spokesman Byron Clemens delivered the union’s recommendation to St. Louis Public Schools headquarters Dec. 2 in downtown St. Louis.
“We are at a specific point in time where Dr. Fauci on a national level and Dr. Garza on a metro level have warned us regarding a rising surge in infections and hospitalization rates,” Clemens said. “We cannot afford to gamble with the virus. We recommend that Superintendent Kelvin Adams put the students, staff and community first by maintaining virtual education throughout the upcoming holiday.”
PRAISE FOR DISTRICT’S PREVIOUS EFFORTS
Clemens praised the district for previously reaching agreement and working with the union on its COVID-19 response, since March.
The union also praised its members as heroes for stepping up during the pandemic and the parents and community for their support.
“We know in general that we see the best outcomes for students from in-person learning,” Clemens said. “Data tells us that on-site, person-to-person learning provides clear educational, social, emotional, nutritional and psychological benefits that are desirable for all students. That being said, the path forward is very clear.”
While safe distribution of a vaccine is expected soon, Clemens said, the path forward is very clear.
“Our members are essential workers; they are heroes. Some have even volunteered in vaccine testing trials,” he said. “We want to minimize risk until the New Year.”