News & Politics

Teachers' Union Threatens 'Safety Walkout' if Schools Don't Keep Them Safe

AP Photo/Teresa Crawford

The American Federation of Teachers is threatening “safety strikes” if school reopening plans don’t meet their demands to be kept safe.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will speak to some of the group’s 1.7 million members on Thursday. The AFT, along with the powerful National Education Association, both back the former vice president in the race against Donald Trump.

It’s unclear exactly what the teachers want, which makes pleasing them even more difficult. You can’t put teachers and kids in plastic bubbles, so unless the teachers just want to wait to reopen until the coronavirus is eradicated, there is going to be a risk.

But as with everything else, this is more about politics than anything.

Politico:

“Let’s be clear: Just as we have done with our health care workers, we will fight on all fronts for the safety of students and their educators,” Weingarten said on Tuesday. “But if the 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 — not advocacy or protests, negotiations, grievances or lawsuits, or, if necessary and authorized by a local union, as a last resort, safety strikes.”

Yes, but what about teaching? I guess she sort of forgot about that.

Meanwhile, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos isn’t buying what the teachers are selling.

“Let’s not pretend that Ms. Weingarten’s threat to strike has anything to do with the safety or children or the public,” Education Department spokesperson Angela Morabito said in a statement. “If the unions were really concerned about doing what’s best for students and teachers, they’d be focused on what they need to do to be a partner in reopening schools safely.”

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia said the teachers will “do whatever it takes.” Not whatever it takes to educate children but whatever it takes to reopen schools to their liking.

“Nobody wants to see students back in the classroom more than educators,” Eskelsen Garcia said in a statement on Tuesday. “But when it comes to their safety, we’re not ready to take any options off the table.”

In a June poll, 76 percent of AFT members surveyed indicated they were comfortable returning to school buildings with “proper safeguards,” Weingarten noted this week. That was before the virus started to spread more rapidly in the U.S. and Trump, as well as DeVos, began what the AFT president called “reckless ‘open or else’ threats.”

“Now they’re angry and afraid,” Weingarten said of her members. “Many are quitting, retiring or writing their wills. Parents are afraid and angry too.”

AFT’s idea of “safe” is laughably unrealistic. Schools can only open in places “where the average daily community infection rate among those tested for the coronavirus is below 5 percent and the transmission rate is below 1 percent.” Many rural schools won’t have any trouble achieving that rate, but you might as well close up big-city schools and tell everyone you’ll see them next year — or the year after.

I guess we shouldn’t expect anything rational from people who lock down a school when a kid points a Pop-Tart eaten into the form of a gun at a fellow student.

It’s not true that kids don’t get COVID-19 or aren’t infectious. Age has something to do with it, but the bottom line is that kids are back to school in Europe and much of the rest of the world. There will be some areas in the U.S. where it might not be safe to reopen schools right now, but most classes should resume on time — with simple precautions.