One of the continually controversial aspects of the pandemic has been how we should handle a return to in-person learning. For well over a year now, school has primarily been conducted in either a virtual classroom or a hybrid in-person/virtual environment. The head of the second largest teacher’s union in the country has called for a return to full, in-person learning.
According to CNN, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, gave a speech during a virtual event on Thursday that outlined what she would like to see as schools begin to reopen. “There is no doubt: Schools must be open. In person. Five days a week,” Weingarten said in her speech. While Weingarten noted that “It’s not risk-free,” she went into detail on the various strategies schools across the country have used to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.
Her remarks will come at a time when more school districts are reopening for full, in-person learning, but not all students are attending.
More than half of the nation’s K-8 public school districts are open for full in-person learning five days a week, according to the latest data from the US Department of Education. But just 44% of students in grade four and 33% of students in grade eight are actually attending full-time school, according to the latest report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
One of the hurdles many districts have faced in reopening are teachers’ unions, who in some cases threatened to strike if forced to return to in-person teaching.
Weingarten says AFT will devote $5 million to its effort to engage with members in a back-to-school campaign. “The United States will not be fully back ... until we are fully back in school. And my union is all in,” Weingarten will say.
I’ve got friends who are teachers; I’ve got friends who are parents, and both have told me that virtual learning has been, to put it politely, a shitshow. Now that vaccines are widely available and have received approval for use in children ages 12-15, it’s not unreasonable to hope that enough students, teachers, and faculty will be fully vaccinated by the time their upcoming summer break ends, making a return to in-person learning feasible.
Weingarten also noted that a return to normal can’t occur without addressing the educational inequities that the pandemic has exacerbated, as well as the psychological, emotional, and academic effects it’s had on countless children.
“No one has come through these trying times unscathed,” Weingarten said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not only to reopen and recover, but reimagine our schools in a way that every public school is a place where parents want to send their children, educators and support staff want to work and students thrive.”