Press Release from American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO
National and State Education Leaders Call for Guidance to Safeguard Students, Educators from Spread of COVID-19
AUSTIN, Texas—The presidents of Texas AFT and the American Federation of Teachers called on Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency today. They request that every school district submit a detailed reopening plan outlining how they will safeguard students and staff from spreading COVID-19. The call comes on the heels of the governor’s announcement last week that Texas public schools will reopen in the fall, with no information on proposed health and safety measures, amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in several communities across the state.
According to the governor’s announcement, schools will reopen in the fall, and the state will not require masks or testing. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath claims it will be safe for everyone to return to school campuses. “This has left parents, students, and teachers with more questions than answers,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo.
“We want to see kids return to school in some way, but prudence requires that there be a health and safety plan to reduce the chances of spreading the deadly virus,” Capo said. “The state should require every district to develop a real plan for safely reopening its schools and file it with the Texas Education Agency.”
AFT President Randi Weingarten said a rushed reopening without committed attention to the health and safety of students and staff would be reckless.
“Make no mistake about it; educators are eager to return to their classrooms and teach their students in person. But, they don’t want to do it without a plan that adequately protects everyone and provides the resources to make sure schools don’t become the new hot spots of transmission,” Weingarten said. “A no-mask, no-testing, no-worries attitude is what will spread the virus.”
Capo and Weingarten said they are anxiously awaiting the state’s further guidance, scheduled for Tuesday, to see if any of their concerns are addressed, and will respond in a telephone press conference on Wednesday.
The AFT recommends that each district’s reopening plan use the five pillars laid out in the AFT’s “A Plan to Reopen America’s Schools and Communities Safely.” Maintain physical distance until the numbers of new cases decline for at least 14 consecutive days. Put in place the infrastructure and resources to test, trace, and isolate new cases. Deploy public health tools that prevent the spread of the virus and align them with educational strategies that meet students’ needs. Involve workers, unions, parents, and the community in all reopening planning.
“Do not abandon America’s communities and their futures; invest in public health and schools,” Capo said. Massive education budget cuts, tackling physical distancing, masks, and everything else that a district deems necessary to open safely will take funding and sensible precautions.
“We’re still learning how this virus spreads in young people and still figuring out the best ways to protect educators who have kept our students safe and engaged through remote learning for three months. A rushed reopening without preventions says: Your health and safety don’t matter,” Capo said.