Education

Groups Protest for Teacher Safety Around U.S.

Nation’s Largest Systems Threaten Strike

Educators around the nation are protesting the opening of in-person schooling citing unpreparedness of school districts to protect teachers, students and staff from COVID-19.
New York City, the largest school district in the country, will return in September on a hybrid schedule with in-person and virtual learning.
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said at a press conference on Aug. 19, that school buildings cannot open on Sept. 10 unless they meet stringent coronavirus safety standards.
Mulgrew vowed to go to court or take a job action, including a strike, if the city attempts to reopen any school building that does not meet the criteria in a safety plan created by the union.
“It’s time for New York City to put forth a transparent, clear plan under the guidance of medical experts so parents and teachers who have been stuck in this fearful dilemma of how to make an informed choice know the expectations for every single school,” the president said.
Mulgrew unveiled the union’s comprehensive school safety plan with safety reviews and testing protocols designed by medical experts. The plan requires the presence of a school nurse, a six-foot separation between student desks, sufficient masks and other protective equipment, ample cleaning supplies, working ventilation systems and an isolation room for students who develop symptoms of infection while at school, as well as a rigorous and extensive tracing program in the event of a COVID-19 infection.
The UFT says because many students and staff will remain home for full-time remote learning, a maximum of about 750,000 children and adults will need testing before school resumes. New York City has about 1.1 million school children in its system.
Mulgrew promised to go to court or strike in spite of the penalties the union would face because of the state’s Taylor Law, which prohibits public sector labor strikes.
The UFT who represents about 75,000 of the city’s teachers says they’ve lost 130 members to COVID-19, including 67 in-service members, 61 retirees and two-family childcare providers.
Mulgrew pointed out the criticism the city received for a delay in closing schools at the start of the pandemic, a delay UFT believes put school staff and students at risk.
“The city went to hell and back, and we’re not going back to hell,” Mulgrew said. “Opening the schools without following the procedures in the safety plan could be one of the biggest debacles in the history of the city.”
In some cities like Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest school district of about 700,000 students protests by educators seem to be working.
The Los Angeles Unified School District recently announced what’s being called the most ambitious coronavirus testing and contact tracing plan in the country.
This comes after the United Teachers of Los Angeles and the school district reached an agreement in early August on virtual schooling after weeks of protest.
In Texas, teachers have protested for months and even held sit-ins at the state capitol in Austin as Gov. Greg Abbott continues to push for in-person instruction.
According to EdWeek, the president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers said his members are desperate enough to consider anything, including a strike—despite the fact that striking is illegal in Texas, and teachers could lose their retirement funds and their licenses.
“There’s a point that you get to where you risk it all because conditions get too bad,” Zeph Capo, president, Texas AFT said. “If you’re not around to enjoy your retirement, what good does it do?”

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Sarafina Wright

WI Contributing Writer

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