‘Reckless, callous, cruel’: teachers’ chief denounces Trump plan to reopen schools

‘Angry’ AFT president Randi Weingarten tells Guardian proposal from Trump and Betsy DeVos could result in teaching exodus

By Jessica Glenza | The Guardian | July 17, 2020


Plans put forward by Donald Trump and his education secretary to reopen America’s schools in the fall are “reckless” and could result in many teachers leaving the profession, the president of one of the country’s biggest teaching unions has warned.

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The new school year is just weeks away in the “sun belt”, the region which stretches from southern California to Florida, as coronavirus spreads like wildfire. But the Trump administration has pushed ahead with calls for schools across the country to reopen fully, despite widespread safety concerns.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the Guardian she watched Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, with disbelief that turned to anger when she appeared on TV this week to call on schools to be “fully operational” this fall.

“It’s as if Trump and DeVos want to create chaos and want to jeopardize reopening,” Weingarten said in an interview. “There’s no other reason why they would be this reckless, this callous, this cruel.”

Florida is setting new infection and death records almost daily. California is returning to lockdown, with bars, restaurants and even offices shuttered. Texas and Arizona are requesting refrigerator trucks as cases increase and morgues are expected to fill to capacity.

The Trump administration has made school reopenings one of its main priorities as it attempts to deal with the coronavirus crisis, with less that four months to go until the November election. Trump has tweeted multiple times that schools “must” reopen in the fall, and berated the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on reopening schools as too “tough” and “expensive”.

Trump has also threatened to withhold federal funding from schools that do not reopen because of coronavirus concerns. Although that is not within his power, Republicans in Congress are now looking to try to attach conditions to emergency school funding in the forthcoming coronavirus relief package.

In her television appearance, DeVos excoriated those schools that have opted for online learning or part-time returns.