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National teachers union authorizes its 1.7M members to strike if they don't like school reopen plans

Getting down to the wire

Chicago Teachers Union members and supporters join a car caravan outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters while a Chicago Board of Education meeting takes place inside in Chicago on July 22. (Photo by Max Herman/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

One of the nation's largest teachers unions has authorized local chapters to go on strike if their school systems try to reopen without a plan that the meets union standards for safety, Politico reported.

The American Federation of Teachers will provide legal, financial, and staffing support to local chapters that go on strike, as the school year approaches amid significant disagreement between teachers and some state and local governments about whether to start the school year in-person or only online.

"Let's be clear: Just as we have done with our health care workers, we will fight on all fronts for the safety of students and their educators," Union President Randi Weingarten said Tuesday. "But if the authorities don't protect the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve, as our executive council voted last week, 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 AFT released a resolution that detailed its demands before it would agree to the opening of schools for in-person instruction.

The union will support full reopening only if the average daily community infection rate is below 5% and the transmission rate is below 1%; high risk staff are given access to special accommodations; schools can be closed if cases spike; and if precautions are taken such as social distancing, masks for students and staff, and upgrades to school building ventilation systems.

Weingarten said in a statement that most teachers supported reopening in June, but recent spikes in cases and aggressive pushes by the federal government have caused many teachers to change their minds.

"Before the virus' resurgence, and before Trump's and [Education Secretary Betsy] DeVos' reckless 'open or else' threats, 76 percent of AFT members said they were comfortable returning to school buildings if the proper safeguards were in place," Weingarten said. "Now they're afraid and angry. Many are quitting, retiring or writing their wills. Parents are afraid and angry, too."

The Trump administration has repeatedly pointed to data showing that children are at low risk of serious illness from COVID-19, and that keeping the schools closed could be more harmful to their well-being than having them in school.

"In areas where there are hot spots, remote and distance learning might need to be adopted for a certain amount of time," Deputy Education Secretary Mitchell Zais said during a CDC press briefing. "But the research and science continue to suggest that it is safer, healthier and better for students to be in school full time."

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