News Story

Teachers Union Has Demands Before Schools Can Reopen

Blames Trump and DeVos, shares legal tips on how to not go back to school

The American Federation of Teachers is resisting plans to reopen schools under terms not to its liking, and sending advice to teachers on using laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act to remain on the payroll without going back to school.

The AFT’s president said this was in response to a lack of guidance from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on how to how to safely reopen schools. She also blamed threats from President Donald Trump to withhold federal funding from districts that don’t resume holding classes in the fall.

“What Trump and DeVos did was open the floodgates, which where our members before were very focused on having safe conditions because people want to start school because they want to be back to school with our kids,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said, according to a labor advocacy news site called Payday Report. “But Trump and DeVos basically eviscerated any trust that anybody has in the federal government.”

The article cites one study by the Kaiser Family Foundation that says approximately 1.5 million teachers – or one out of four - are considered at-risk if they are infected by the novel coronavirus. The advice on how to avoid returning to school is contained in a memo for the union prepared by the employment law firm Barkan Meizlish of Columbus, Ohio. It explains how union members can take advantage of the workplace accommodation requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and through their own union contracts.

Weingarten said the AFT is prepared to call strikes in school districts the union deems to be unready to reopen, according to Payday Report.

“I don’t take anything off the table when it comes to trying to make sure people are safe,” she said.

The AFT didn't respond to an email seeking comment.

In April, Weingarten encouraged educators to “scream bloody murder” if they weren’t satisfied with the safety precautions in their schools, according to Politico.

She also advised them to “use your public megaphones.”

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García also said at the time that members of her union would not rule out strikes and suggested that parents might join them, Politico reported.

“You put all things on the table when it comes to student safety,” Eskelsen García said. “I don’t think we’ll be alone.”

Employees at the Detroit Public Schools Community District are organized by a union local affiliated with the AFT.

Michigan Capitol Confidential reached out to Weingarten for comment but did not receive a response.