Teachers’ Union President: Always Wanted In-School Classes

Teachers' Union President: Always Wanted In-School Classes randi weingarten speaks into mic at teachers strike American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten visits with striking Chicago teachers at Oscar DePriest Elementary School on Oct. 22, 2019, in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

By Sandy Fitzgerald | Friday, 14 May 2021 01:02 PM

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said Friday her union always has wanted the nation's children to return to schools for five days a week, but it took until now for national guidance to prove that in-class learning could be done safely amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

"We have seen the vaccines really work," Weingarten told CNN's "New Day." "We have always wanted to be back in school. Last April, a month after everything shut down, we were the first ones to put our report out about how to get back to in-school learning, because we knew that in-school learning was vital for kids."

On Thursday, just before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made its announcement that vaccinated people could, in most cases, go maskless because of the decreasing COVID numbers, Weingarten said in a speech that the nation's second-largest teachers' organization, backs full-time, in-person classes.

"Given current circumstances, nothing should stand in the way of fully reopening our public schools this fall and keeping them open," Weingarten said in her speech. "The United States will not be fully back until we are fully back in school. And my union is all in."

She also said Thursday that there will still be some risks when it comes to reopening schools, but the CDC's guidance and the growing numbers of people getting vaccines makes returning to school attainable.

"Teachers do want what kids need," Weingarten told CNN Friday. "But we also knew that safety was not an obstacle to getting kids back in. Safety was the vehicle to reopen schools in person and keep them open."

She also insisted she didn't "want to be political," but said President Joe Biden "did what Donald Trump wouldn't."

The Biden administration, she said, "created the kind of national guidance through the CDC and they created the resources. So the national guidance, the resources, and the vaccines have been key. "

Weingarten said that 89% of the people in her union have gotten their vaccinations.

"Very few people are getting sick, and nobody is getting as sick as they were, so it creates trust," she said.

Weingarten said she's visited several schools after she was fully vaccinated and that she's observed the "joy of teachers and kids" who are back in class.

"We know it's not risk-free, but we think that you can mitigate all of the risks, and I think yesterday's announcement by the CDC is really great news," said Weingarten.

But when asked why all classes are not open full-time, if they're now safe, she replied that 97% of schools are open for in-person classes, even if not yet full time.

"About 60% of them are," Weingarten said. "The real key right now is that about two-thirds of our parents, particularly Black and brown parents, don't trust it. "

Meanwhile, it will take "a minute or two" to determine what protocols will be concerning teachers and students wearing masks, and she admitted it will take time to convince people to get their children vaccinated.

"We're still in emergency use, and I think for this period of time, it's about convincing people," she said.

Meanwhile, Weingarten said much has been lost by children who have had to stay home for remote learning over the past year.

"I think the social isolation has been the worst thing that has happened because of the coronavirus," she said. "There are some kids who did very well on remote. You know that, before COVID, I was not a big believer in remote education. I think that in-school education is really important. And it's not just being in school, but we have to recover and reimagine public education. But what's really been lost is the peer-to-peer contact."