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Could schools fully reopen this fall? One expert weighs in

President of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten says they ‘must’

First graders and their classmates wear masks as they go to lunch at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in Salt Lake City.
First graders Allison Mejia Medina, left, Tatum Ashy, right and their classmates wear masks as they go to lunch at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 12, 2021.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

In a virtual speech Thursday morning, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Rani Weingarten, gave her union’s support for fully reopening public school this fall, The New York Times reports.

  • “There is no doubt: Schools must be open. In-person. Five days a week,” Weingarten said.
  • “The United States will not be fully back until we are fully back in schools,” she said, according to the New York Post.

How would the fall school reopening work?

While voicing strong support for full reopenings, Weingarten said she still supported additional safety measures to prevent virus spread, including universal masking and continued social distancing of 3 feet.

Continuing to socially distance while in school also supports the teachers group’s longtime effort for smaller class sizes that will allow both more space and more individualized support, The New York Times reports.

Beyond health matters, Weingarten emphasized that returning to school would require focusing on social and emotional support for students. To further support students in recovering from the pandemic, she shared numerous ideas, such as hiring more in-school mental health professionals, summer school sessions and longer school days, among others.

Why the sudden support for faster reopenings?

Over the last academic year, teachers’ unions, including the AFT, have lobbied for slower reopenings amidst concerns of ongoing outbreaks. Weingarten’s announcement comes in response to two recent developments:

In her speech, Wiengarten said that “Prolonged isolation is harmful. School is where children learn. It’s where they work together and play together.” For these reasons, the AFT is “all in” for fully reopening public school this fall.

The American Federation of Teachers is the second-largest teachers union in America with 1.7 million members. However, according to The New York Times, whether local unions will echo these sentiments remains unclear.