The president of one of the largest teachers unions in the country announced Thursday that the union wants all schools to reopen for in-person schooling in the fall.
“The United States will not be fully back, until we are fully back in school. And my union is all in,” Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), said in an announcement.
Unions like AFT have been a major obstacle to districts trying to return to in-person learning, claiming that the risk of teachers contracting COVID-19 was too high in many locales and attempting to force safety measures that critics say were unreasonable.
But circumstances have recently changed, with an increasing number of school employees receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, Weingarten said. Union data shows nearly nine out of 10 members have been vaccinated or have expressed a desire to get a shot.
“We can and we must reopen schools in the fall for in-person teaching, learning, and support. And keep them open. Fully and safely, five days a week,” she said, pledging to commit $5 million to helping do so.
Danger from the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus still exists but can be managed by following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, she added.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in a tweet praised Weingarten and the 1.7 million AFT members “for supporting getting back to schools safely & quickly,” though advisers to President Joe Biden have said he’s not certain that schools can reopen fully in the fall.
The National Education Association, another large union, said in a statement that it supports schools reopening in the fall.
“Educators will continue to lead in making sure each school has what it needs to fully reopen in a safe and just way, and to ensure the resources exist to meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of all students,” Becky Pringle, the union’s president, said in a statement.
Schools nationwide shut down in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as the body of research grew showing in-person learning was safe, many states and counties kept schools closed, or resorted to hybrid learning, which saw students alternate days in the classroom and at home.
Many schools began reopening in the fall and more have since joined.
According to data from Burbio, nearly 68 percent of U.S. K-12 students were attending school in-person every day as of May 9. Another 29 percent were attending hybrid schools and nearly 3 percent were attending schools that remain virtual-only.
The Return to Learn tracker pegs about half of the school districts as letting students attend school every day with another 48 percent hybrid.
Weingarten’s announcement drew fierce criticism. The Wall Street Journal editorial board said she and other unions “have held children and parents hostage to obtain more money from Washington for higher salaries and pensions.”
“These comments by Randi Weingarten just amuse me. Here they are saying we want the students back in the fall fulltime,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said during an appearance on Newsmax. “I think she realizes that train has left already and they better try to grab onto it because the American people want the children back in school and the unions have been the ones that have been keeping them out of school.”
Internal communications recently made public showed the AFT influenced the CDC’s school reopening guidance that was released in February. Critics said the guidance was too strict, delaying many districts from fully reopening.
Weingarten told The Epoch Times via email that the union represents people on the front lines during the pandemic, such as teachers, and has “been in regular touch with the agencies setting policy that affect their work and lives, including the CDC.”
The CDC did not return a request for comment.
Congressional Republicans have pressed the agency on how much the AFT and other groups impacted the guidance, asking for communications between it and the union.
“President Biden promised to re-open schools within 100 days of his Administration. He also promised to follow the science regarding COVID-19. Your political obedience to Democrat-aligned special interest groups ahead of our Nation’s children breaks both of these promises,” Foxx, the ranking member on the House Education and Labor Committee, and two other top Republicans wrote in a May 12 letter.