‘Nothing is off the table’ if safety procedures aren’t followed, according to the American Federation of Teachers union
The American Federation of Teachers announced at its biennial convention Tuesday that the union will do whatever is necessary to guarantee safe working conditions for teachers and a safe learning environment for students.
According to remarks made by President Randi Weingarten at the virtual conference, “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.”
The nation’s second-largest teacher’s union, which has 1.7 million members, also urged the federal government for financial relief to help school districts prepare for the reopening of schools in the fall.
“The average school will need at least $1.2 million, or $2,300 per student, to open its doors safely,” Weingarten said. “Assuming no other budget cuts, that’s at least $116 billion — to have the resources to protect the health of students, staff and families, and to have the support to meet every child where they are and to advance every child’s learning and development.”
Weingarten’s comments and the position of the American Federation of Teachers echoed a similar stance from New York’s teachers union. NYSUT, the union composed of over 600,000 members and affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, stated in an email that while its current plan is to help get back-to-school plans in place, additional means would be used to guarantee the safety of the entire school community.
“Districts still have time to work on and submit their reopening plans, and they must continue working with local educators to get them right. At the end of the day, if they are not up to par, we will consider all legal and advocacy means at our disposal to protect the entire school community,” said Matt Hamilton, press secretary for the union.
NYSUT also released another statement last week demanding that specific health protocols be incorporated into reopening guidelines, issued by the state’s Department of Education. These included mandating social distancing, reduced occupancy, the use of masks and other safety measures.
The statement was made after guidelines released by New York’s Department of Education were unclear on these measures.
“With the clock ticking for districts to develop and submit reopening plans, there is no time for ambiguity,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. “We’ll say it again: Health and safety, as well as equity, are absolutely essential in planning for the fall. The Department of Health issued clear guidelines regarding social distancing and masks. There’s no reason districts should be guessing at what the safest option for students, staff and the entire school community is.”
After this July 19 announcement, the state Department of Education clarified guidelines for reopening schools, which now include 6 feet of social distancing as a must along with the wearing of masks if social distancing cannot be maintained. Messenger Post Media reached out to the Department of Education for comment on how teacher input shaped the reopening guidelines, but as of press time had not heard back.
In Ontario County, the Canandaigua City School District organized several focus groups with staff and faculty, along with a survey to determine the two options which were presented to the public last Monday, according to district spokeswoman Caroline Chapman.
“Over 150 staff members participated in focus groups and additionally 257 staff members completed a survey sent out by the Canandaigua Teachers Association. The Central Office Management Team also met with about twenty union leaders to seek input,” Chapman said in an email.
Parents and students were also focus group participants.