‘If the President really saw us as essential, he’d act like it,’ said the president of the American Federation of Teachers
As schools struggle to reopen their doors this school year — with many almost immediately experiencing massive COVID-19 outbreaks, including schools in Georgia and universities such as Notre Dame — the Trump administration has now labeled teachers “essential” workers. The declaration of teachers as “critical infrastructure workers” came in an Aug. 18 guidance published by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
More specifically, the teachers included in the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce” advisory list are: “professors, teachers, teacher aides, special education and special needs teachers, ESOL teachers, para-educators, apprenticeship supervisors, and specialists.”
In addition to teachers, the list also includes those who “provide services necessary to support educators and students” such as administrators, administrative staff, IT specialists, media specialists, librarians, guidance counselors, school psychologists and other mental health professions, school nurses and other health professionals, and school safety personnel. Bus drivers, crossing guards, cafeteria workers, cleaning and maintenance workers, bus depot and maintenance workers, and “those that deliver food and supplies to school facilities” are also included — as well as school superintendents and their management and operational staff and “educators and operational staff facilitating and supporting distance learning.”
As the Washington Post explained, labeling teachers “critical infrastructure workers” means that those exposed to COVID-19 and show no symptoms can return to classrooms and not quarantine for 14 days, as recommend by public health agencies such as the CDC.
“Teachers are and always have been essential workers—but not essential enough, it seems, for the Trump administration to commit the resources necessary to keep them safe in the classroom.” @rweingarten https://t.co/AWjNLazTWd
— AFT (@AFTunion) August 21, 2020
Not only does the DHS call the “critical infrastructure workers” label “advisory in nature,” but during an appearance on Fox Business, Vice President Mike Pence also said that while the administration has designated teachers as essential workers, it was not a mandate.
“What that is, is when you’re declared an essential it means you’re going to be prioritized for things like PPE and support,” Pence said. “But we want to get our kids back to school but we also want our teachers to know that we’re going to make the resources available so that their schools can be a safe environment.”
According to American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, the designation could be used to “threaten, bully and coerce” teachers into classrooms, CNN reports.
“If the President really saw us as essential, he’d act like it. Teachers are and always have been essential workers — but not essential enough, it seems, for the Trump administration to commit the resources necessary to keep them safe in the classroom. Rather than fund these protections, create a plan and guidance for how to ensure that school buildings can reopen safely, and follow the science,” Weingarten said, adding:
“The Trump administration will always try to change the rules to threaten, bully and coerce. No doubt this new ‘guidance’ will be used as a pretext by Trump-supporting governors to force students and educators into unsafe buildings to serve the president’s political agenda.”