American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten delivered a virtual address last week calling for the full reopening of schools this fall. During the press conference, she pointed out that 97 percent of the schools across the country are reopened for full-time and part-time in-person learning and stated that “given current circumstances, nothing should stand in the way of fully reopening our public schools this fall and keeping them opened.”
Reopening schools in the fall will not be “risk-free…unless many more people get vaccinated we will not reach herd immunity against COVID.” Weingarten credits the vaccine rollout as a “gamechanger” for reopening schools in the fall and stated that 89 percent of AFT members are vaccinated or want to be vaccinated.
In the early days of the pandemic in April 2020, the teachers union developed a safety plan in coordination with health experts, education experts, and members to negotiate school reopening plans across the country. The plan includes vaccinating teachers and including mitigation and mask-wearing efforts.
At the virtual event, Weingarten explained that polling conducted by the AFT, NAACP, and other organizations found that 73 percent of all parents and 59 percent of Black parents support reopening schools. Those numbers increased to 94 percent of all parents and 87 percent of Black parents supportive of reopening schools under the AFT’s safety plan.
Before Thursday’s speech, the New York Times reported that the AFT is “pledging to commit $5 million for a campaign in which teachers will host open houses and go door to door to build families’ confidence in returning to school.” Weingarten stated in her address that educators ask for two things for reopening safely: a safe workplace during the pandemic and the resources they and their students need to succeed.