Teachers being pushed to go back to their schools are demonstrating their resistance in graphic and grim ways, including mock gravestones, makeshift coffins, and writing their own early obituaries.
As districts prepare to start the new school year with remote or in-person learning (or a mix of both), school staff and faculty fear the reopening plans risk more outbreaks of COVID-19 amid massive regional spikes as the United States approaches 5 million positive cases and 156,000 deaths.
“I do not want to put my students or myself in harm’s way,” Chicago elementary school teacher Andrea Parker told Reuters on Monday. “I do not want to be an experiment.” Chicago schools plan to start with a hybrid learning system that requires teachers and school staff to be on campus for four days a week, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. (Currently, the positive testing rate in Chicago is hovering around 5 percent, according to city data.)
In New York City, hundreds of demonstrators including teachers and students protested Mayor Bill de Blasio’s school reopening plan, which calls for a mix of in-person and remote learning beginning next month so long as positive tests stay below 3 percent. Protesters carried makeshift coffins and a yellow guillotine labeled “DOE.”
“Children cannot focus on schoolwork if their family members or teachers are in the hospital or dying,” Brooklyn kindergarten teacher Frankie Cook told the New York Post.
In Wisconsin, a National Day of Resistance caravan on Monday demanded that schools move to virtual learning for the fall semester, with teachers from all over the state gathering in the capital of Madison to protest the rush to reopen schools. Art teachers from across the state made mock gravestones for cars in their caravan, including one that read, “RIP Grandma. Caught COVID helping kids with homework.”
On Monday, a Wisconsin Republican legislator accused Democratic Gov. Tony Evers of secretly plotting to issue a statewide mandate for virtual learning for the fall semester. Evers denied it, saying local districts should be left to make their own decisions.
“We have districts marching teachers and students into an unsafe position in which teachers and students are likely to contract COVID,” Racine (Wisconsin) Educators United president Angelina Cruz told Madison.com. (Racine has decided on virtual learning for at least the first quarter of the school year.) “It is unsafe, because our schools are not fully funded in a way that can address all of the safety concerns we have.”
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, whose union is one of the two major national teachers’ unions in the United States with more than 1.7 million members, said in July that the union would support “safety strikes” by its locals, declaring: “Nothing is off the table.” National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, whose union represents more than 3 million members, didn’t commit to supporting strikes but echoed a similar sentiment in a statement to Newsweek.
Generally speaking, Republicans leaders including President Donald Trump and governors such as Arizona’s Doug Ducey have pushed for schools to reopen in person, even threatening a loss of public funding if they don’t; Dr. Anthony Fauci, a bogeyman of the right who serves on Trump’s coronavirus task force, said on Monday that the default position of schools should be to reopen.
There are already indications that outbreaks are a foregone conclusion, however: in Gwinnett County Public Schools, the largest school district in the hard-hit state of Georgia, said on Sunday that it has 260 employees who’ve already tested positive for COVID-19 or come into contact with someone who has.
After initially offering a hybrid of in-person and remote learning for the fall, the county reversed course; schools will open with remote learning for students on August 12, but teachers were ordered back to school on July 29 with no work from home option, according to CNN. At least one elementary school teacher in the district has already resigned.
Other schools in Georgia have chosen to open, however, after Governor Brian Kemp issued a recommendation last month to start in-person classes because, he claimed, it’s safer for students "from a nutrition standpoint, child abuse, human trafficking." After a huge spike early in the summer—Georgia was one of the earliest states in the country to allow businesses to reopen—Georgia has had nearly 180,000 positive coronavirus cases and more than 3,700 deaths.
Cover: Protesters carry a makeshift coffin representing potential death students and educators face, while a coalition of activists, educators, parents, and students protest to stop the in-person reopening of New York City public schools amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City on August 3, 2020. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)