Teachers’ Union President: ‘I Don’t Agree’ with Opening Schools as Soon as Possible

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AP Photo/Scott Eisen

The president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) told the USA Today editorial board she does not agree with President Donald Trump’s view that schools should reopen as soon as possible.

In an interview published Thursday, Randi Weingarten accused Trump of creating a “false narrative that people either want to stay in place, locked down, or you open things up as if it was last June.”

Weingarten said if there is a second wave of coronavirus infections during the summer, “all bets are off” for reopening schools.

The union leader said the distance learning taking place since schools shut down “is something that we all know has not been good for kids.”

She noted teachers have “worked really hard” to be flexible to do remote teaching but said online education “is not a substitute for the relationship building and the alchemy that happens in schools and in classrooms.”

Weingarten added perhaps “a kid or two” will do well with virtual learning, but dismissed it as a potential ongoing education mode.

However, she admitted she could envision some high schools opening one day a week since students of that age “may be able to do more in remote.”

She responded to a question about when Americans would know if schools will open in time for the fall semester with the statement, “I think your question is, what’s going to happen in terms of school buildings.”

Weingarten added:

I think we’re going to know that based upon two facts. Will we get this (financial aid) package (from Congress)? Because if we don’t get that package, then school buildings are not going to reopen in the way that they need to. The second real issue, which is a big uncertainty, is whether there’s going to be a second wave. If a second wave crops up that you can’t contain, then schools won’t open in September. I want schools to open safely and responsibly, and as a union, we are doing everything in our power to prepare people to do that and to try to make it work.

The union leader stressed again that schools will need more funding to open “safely and responsibly.”

“It’s going to cost more money than we’re spending now,” she continued.

Weingarten suggested some possible means of social distancing in schools.

“You might have to halve the size of the school in terms of the number of kids that are there,” she said. “You might have to stagger morning and afternoon sessions. … You’d have to clean the school between sessions.”

The AFT president acknowledged the possibility of “hybrid models” of school for some districts but emphasized that reopening will be a difficult, but necessary, feat.

“[I]t’s not good for kids to be home like this,” she said.

In response to her support to “road test” some possible innovations for schools during the summer months, Weingarten admitted some of her members have asked, “[W]hy are you pushing for this? And why are you pushing for summer school?”

She said the fear and anxiety associated with the infection caused by the Chinese virus is “legitimate.”

“This illness, excuse my language, it knocks the s–t out of you,” she said.

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