As our country continues to battle COVID-19, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has released what it calls a “flexible blueprint for imagining a new normal for public education, public health and our society.”
The five-point plan, which AFT says is based on science as well as educator and healthcare expertise—not politics or wishful thinking—calls for a gradual reopening. The plan acknowledges the eagerness of people across the U.S. to return to some “semblance of normal,” while outlining the need to follow guidelines until a vaccine can eradicate the virus.
Calling the report a “living document,” the AFT explains that they expect the plan to evolve and adapt over time. In its current iteration, the report states, to gradually reopen we need to:
- Maintain physical distancing until the number of new cases declines for at least 14 consecutive days. Reducing the number of new cases is a prerequisite for transitioning to reopening plans on a community-by-community basis.
- Put in place the infrastructure and resources to test, trace and isolate new cases. Transitioning from community-focused physical distancing and stay-in-place orders to case-specific interventions requires ramping up the capacity to test, trace and isolate each new case.
- Deploy the public health tools that prevent the virus’ spread and align them with education strategies that meet the needs of students.
Involve workers, unions, parents and communities in all planning. Each workplace and community faces unique challenges related to COVID-19. To ensure that reopening plans address those challenges, broad worker and community involvement is necessary. They must be engaged, educated and empowered.
- Invest in recovery: Do not abandon America’s communities or forfeit America’s future. These interventions will require more—not less—investment in public health and in our schools, universities, hospitals, and local and state governments. Strengthening communities should be a priority in the recovery.
In a related document, ‘Guide to Community Conversation on Reopening America’s Schools Safely,’ the AFT has outlined how to implement its five-point plan. Emphasizing the “power of union and community coming together,” the addendum offers tools and resources to help workers participate in the safe reopening of our schools and communities.
Dr. Lorretta Johnson, AFT Secretary-Treasurer, believes that the AFT’s plan can be used by the Trump Administration and individual states and cities as a blueprint for reopening.
“The most important thing to consider before reopening is the health of our students, teachers and other school employees,” says Dr. Johnson. “And let’s be clear, none of this can be done unless the HEROES Act is passed. We need funding in order to safely open our schools. State revenues are down, and schools were already underfunded before COVID-19. Without the federal funding provided by the HEROES Act, we can’t get to a place where we can safely reopen.”
“This isn’t about politics. This is about people’s lives. A crisis like this should be bringing our communities together, not pitting neighbor against neighbor. We believe that our guide provides a real path forward and gives our communities the tools they need to begin the conversations that need to be had about how best to get our teachers and students safely back to school.” ■