American Federation of Teachers

Teachers union president calls for full reopening of schools for 2021-22

May 13, 2021
Randi Weingarten, who leads the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, says it is vital that all classrooms reopen for in-person instruction.

The president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is calling for schools to return fully to in-person learning when the 2021-22 academic year begins.

In a speech at the union's Washington, D.C. headquarters, Randi Weingarten said getting students and teachers back in classrooms was vital to the nation's recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There is no doubt: Schools must be open," Weingarten said. "In person. Five days a week. With the space and facilities to do so,. We know that’s how kids learn best and that prolonged isolation is harmful.”

As the pandemic has disrupted regular operations of schools and universities for more than a year, teachers unions like the AFT and the National Education Association have stressed the need for adequate safety measures to be in place in school facilities to protect their members, especially those with pre-existing health problems.

That has resulted in conflicts with those who wanted in-person instruction to resume more quickly for the sake of students whose academic progress was suffering.

“Educators have yearned to be back in school, with their students," Weingarten said. "They only asked for two things—a safe workplace during this pandemic and the resources they and their students need to succeed.”

To boost the effort to reopen classrooms the AFT has launched a $5 million “Back-to-School for Everyone” campaign. It will seek to communicate to teachers, staff members, students' families and community members about " the importance of in-school learning and build families’ trust and confidence in children returning to school."

The union president noted that the hesitancy expressed by many teachers about returning to classrooms has lessened as Covid-19 vaccinations have been made widely available.

"The fear that they will bring the virus home decreases the moment they get their shot," Weingarten said. "Our members have stepped up—according to our data, 89% of our members are fully vaccinated or want to be."

Numbers gathered by the U.S. Department of Education show that as of March, 54% of the nation's schools serving grades K to 8 had reopened for full-time in-person instruction.

YouTube video: Watch the speech:

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