Union Representing 1.7 Million U.S. Teachers Says It Will Support Strikes If Schools Reopen Unsafely
The American Federation of Teachers issued guidelines for the safe reopening of schools, including the use of face masks. izusek / E+ / Getty Images Plus
The second largest teachers union in the U.S. announced Tuesday it would support strikes if schools reopened without proper safety measures in place to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
"We will fight on all fronts for the safety of our students and their educators," American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten said at the union's biennial convention Tuesday, as NPR reported. "But if authorities don't protect the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve ... 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 union, which represents 1.7 million teachers, issued the resolution in support of strikes on Friday but announced it at its convention Tuesday, which was held online because of the pandemic, as ABC News reported. The resolution means that the union will offer legal, communications and staffing support to any local districts that decide to strike.
The resolution also lists certain conditions that must be met in order for schools to reopen safely. They include:
- Only reopening in areas that have reduced the infection rate to below five percent and the transmission rate to below one percent
- Only reopening in areas with effective testing and tracing mechanisms in place
- Having a trigger in place to close schools again if infections rise
- Establishing workplace accommodations for employees who are at greater risk if they contract COVID-19
- Enacting safety measures like requiring masks for staff and students, ensuring physical distancing of six feet and providing well-stocked hand-washing facilities
The largest U.S. teachers union, the National Education Association (NEA), also said it would not rule out strikes to keep staff and students safe.
"Nobody wants to see students back in the classroom more than educators," NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said in a statement Tuesday reported by POLITICO. "But when it comes to their safety, we're not ready to take any options off the table."
The Trump administration, meanwhile, criticized the AFT for issuing a strike threat.
"Let's not pretend that Ms. Weingarten's threat to strike has anything to do with the safety or children or the public," Education Department spokesperson Angela Morabito said in a statement reported by POLITICO. "If the unions were really concerned about doing what's best for students and teachers, they'd be focused on what they need to do to be a partner in reopening schools safely."
However, Weingarten said that President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had inflamed the situation with their push to "open or else." She said a June poll found 76 percent of AFT members were comfortable returning to in-person instruction if safety measures were in place, but that was before the recent spike in cases and aggressive push to reopen schools.
"Now they're angry and afraid," Weingarten said, according to POLITICO. "Many are quitting, retiring or writing their wills. Parents are afraid and angry too."
Large districts like Los Angeles, Houston and Atlanta have already decided to begin the school year online, according to ABC News. In hard-hit Florida, meanwhile, the local AFT has sued to block the state's reopening plan, which it called "reckless and unsafe."
Trump acknowledged last week that some districts may not be able to reopen immediately, but still wants Congress to block relief for schools that do not reopen.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines last week largely supporting the reopening of schools, POLITICO reported.
"The best available evidence indicates if children become infected, they are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms," the CDC wrote. "Death rates among school-aged children are much lower than among adults. At the same time, the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant."
However, Eskelsen García criticized the statement for making no mention of teacher safety.
.@Lily_NEA is concerned that educators' safety isn't factored in the latest CDC guidelines:— NEA Education Votes (@edvotes) July 27, 2020
"There isn't one word about the health risks for the big people in schools. We wonder what the silence is about... They don’t even come into the equation." https://t.co/dWE5xYz9UJ
"There is not one word about the health risks of the big people in that school," she told Yahoo Life. "We wonder what the silence about all that is about, like, 'Don't worry about the kids and certainly don't worry about the teachers!' They don't even come into the equation."
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These are the world's most bicycle-friendly cities. Statista<p>"The reason we use bamboo to manufacture bicycles is because it's found abundantly in Ghana and this is not a material we're going to import," says Dapaah, one of the World Economic Forum's Young Global Leaders.</p><p>"It's a new innovation. There were no existing bamboo bike builders in our country, so we were the first people trying to see how best we could utilize the abundant bamboo in Ghana."</p>
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Supporting Students<p>Besides encouraging Ghanaians to swap vehicles for affordable bikes, Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative is helping students save time on walking to school so they have more time to learn.</p><p>Each time they sell a bike, they donate a bike to a schoolchild in a rural community, who might otherwise have to walk for hours to get to school.</p><p>Dapaah knows how transformative a shorter journey to school can be to academic performance. She grew up living with her <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sb3joGYmx9A&feature=emb_logo" target="_blank">grandpa, a forester in a rural part of the country</a>.</p><p>"We had to walk three and a half hours every day before I could go to school. He later bought me a bike, so I finished senior high and wanted to go to university."</p><p>The experience inspired her to launch Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative with two other students at college.</p><p>"When we started this initiative, I looked back and said, when I was young, I had to walk miles before I could get to school, and sometimes if I was late, I was punished.</p><p>"Why don't we donate bikes for students to encourage them to study and so they can have enough time to be on books."</p><p>To date, they have sold more than 3,000 road, mountain and children's bikes – and Dapaah says they plan to donate <a href="https://www.entrepreneur.com/video/350343" target="_blank">10,000 bikes to schoolchildren over five years</a>.</p>
Empowering Women<p>The enterprise is also providing local jobs. It teaches young people to build bikes, particularly women and those in rural communities, where jobs can be scarce. More than 50% of people they have trained are women.</p><p>Dapaah says they want to boost the number of people they employ to 250 over the next five years and they are looking to partner with NGOs to build a childcare facility so mothers can continue to work.</p>
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Unlocking Information About Antarctic Ice Shelf<p>Other researchers also are using hydrophones to learn more about crumbling glaciers. Bob Dziak, research oceanographer with the NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory <a href="https://www.pmel.noaa.gov/acoustics" target="_blank">acoustics research group</a>, captured a massive calving event of the Nansen Ice Shelf in Antarctica with a hydrophone. He published the results with colleagues in <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/feart.2019.00183/full" target="_blank">Frontiers in Earth Science</a></p><p>On April 7, 2016, satellite images showed a massive calving event had occurred on the ice shelf. The paper described it as the "first large scale calving event in >30 years."</p><p>However, once Dziak and colleagues delved into the data from three hydrophones deployed 60 kilometers east of the ice shelf, they uncovered a series of "icequakes" from January to early March 2016. He and other researchers believe that much of the ice actually broke free in mid-January to February, but it remained in the same location until an April storm – which their paper described as the "largest low-pressure storm recorded in the previous seven months" – broke the ice free.</p><p>"We suspected that the icebergs broke apart but remained in place – kind of pinned in place – until a major storm with high winds passed through the area and, finally, it was that last push that pushed the icebergs out to sea," Dziak says.</p><p>He and his co-authors wrote that "fortuitous timing and proximity of the hydrophone deployment presented a rare opportunity to study cryogenic signals and ocean ambient sounds of a large-scale ice shelf calving and iceberg formation event."</p>
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