Presidents of teachers unions call for full school reopening

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In this May 3, 2021, photo, President Joe Biden gestures as he talks to students during a visit to Yorktown Elementary School, in Yorktown, Va., as first lady Jill Biden watches. Biden has met his goal of having most elementary and middle schools open for full, in-person learning in his first 100 days. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(AP) – The presidents of the nation’s two major teachers unions called separately for a full return to in-person learning in the fall, with the leader of the American Federation of Teachers declaring Thursday that her organization was “all-in.”

In an address on social media, Randi Weingarten said the wide availability of vaccines and a new infusion of federal education money have removed many obstacles that prevented schools from opening.

“Conditions have changed,” Weingarten said. “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.”

The National Education Association issued its own statement after Weingarten’s remarks.

“NEA supports school buildings being open to students for in-person instruction in the fall,” said the group's president, Becky Pringle. “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.”

If local unions heed theses calls, it would be seen as a major stride in the effort to reopen schools. Teachers unions have been blamed for slowing the process with demands for a variety of safety measures. Teachers in some districts have refused to return until ventilations systems are updated, virus tests are given and all teachers are vaccinated.

Weingarten said vaccines have been the decisive factor in her vision for a fall reopening. President Joe Biden in March ordered states to prioritize teachers in vaccination rollouts, and by the end of that month, federal health officials said 80% of school workers had been given their first shot.

“I hear it in educators’ voices and see it in our polling results,” the union chief said. “The fear that they will bring the virus home decreases the moment educators get the shots.”