Teachers union leader on reopening schools: 'If the NFL could figure out how to do this, let's do it'

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said Sunday that U.S. schools need to “actually try to get as much in person as possible right now.”

“I want to debunk this myth that teacher unions, at least our union, doesn’t want to reopen schools,” Weingarten told host Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Teachers know that in-person education is really important. We would have said that pre-pandemic. We knew remote education is not a good substitute.”

“If the NFL could figure out how to do this in terms of testing and the protocols, if schools are that important, let’s do it,” she went on. “My members want it. They just want to be safe.”

AFT, which represents some 1.7 million educators, is one of the nation’s largest teachers unions.

“We have the highway or the roadmap that allows us to” reopen schools, Weingarten said, pointing to CDC guidance and resources included in President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief proposal, slated for a vote on the Hill this week. “It comes down to three things: the layered mitigation strategies, the testing so you can actually see asymptomatic spread, and vaccine prioritization.”

“Not that every teacher has to be vaccinated before reopening schools,” she went on, “but you should align that vaccination with the reopening.”

Asked about states that have done a good job of reopening schools, Weingarten acknowledged, “There is no perfect solution.”

“But New York City has done a pretty good job in terms of showing the way,” she said. She also pointed to the District of Columbia, which she said “actually made sure that every teacher and school employee that wanted the vaccine got vaccinated in the last few weeks,” as well as Oregon, West Virginia and Ohio.

Local unions have, in some instances, pushed for higher standards for reopening. California labor organizations left Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom so frustrated in a recent meeting that he said “we might as well just pack it up and just be honest with folks that we’re not going to open for in-person instruction this school year.”

Asked about the issue, Weingarten responded: “Teacher unions are not monolithic.”

“What you are hearing is that people are scared,” she went on. “I think what we need to do is we have to meet fear with facts.”


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