National Teachers Union Blasts Texas' School Reopening Plan, Saying It Puts Students at Risk

click to enlarge National Teachers Union Blasts Texas' School Reopening Plan, Saying It Puts Students at Risk
The American Federation of Teachers union ripped Texas' hands-off approach to reopening public schools amid the pandemic, saying during a Tuesday call that state leaders are exposing both students and educators to infection risks.

A draft document posted on the Texas Education Agency's website appears to show that the agency plans a light regulatory touch when it comes to restarting in the fall, the Texas Tribune reported Tuesday. Other than recommending staff and students wear masks, wash their hands and maintain social distance, the draft includes little in the way of specific safety rules.

The document seems to mirror the strategy of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who's under increasing criticism for reopening the economy too early during the COVID-19 crisis and failing to order more stringent statewide safety orders.

"We don't get what's going on with Texas, in that there are blinders on with regard to public health and science," AFT president Randi Weingarten said during the Wednesday conference call with reporters.

Weingarten urged Texas leaders to take a more active role in charting the safety measures for schools as they reopen and to collaborate better with teachers, labor groups and community members. She also called on Abbott to lobby the U.S. Senate to pass the HEROES Act so districts can access the $1-2 million the union estimates each school will need for safety upgrades.

The AFT's call comes a day after the Texas State Teachers Association urged Abbott to mandate the wearing of masks, cautioning that his hands-off approach could worsen already spiraling numbers of COVID-19 diagnoses.

"The governor can preach the benefits of wearing a mask all he wants, but as long as he continues to dodge responsibility for issuing a mask order, some school officials won’t require them, and health risks for students and school employees will rise," TSTA President Noel Candelaria said in a statement released Tuesday. "The governor needs to be a leader and take the initiative on this critical health and safety issue."

Although the state's education agency said the reopening document on its website is a draft and that additional guidance is coming soon, AFT officials said teachers need more input now.

Texas AFT President Zeph Capo said he's sending a letter to Abbott requesting that he waive deadlines for teachers to decide whether they want to resign or retire before the upcoming school year. Many aging educators and those with pre-existing health conditions face tough choices about whether to return to campuses where they face the risk of COVID-19 infection.

So far, vague state guidelines don't give them enough information on which to base those calls.

"That's the least the governor's office can do to remedy this situation for our educators," Capo said.

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