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Teacher Protests Erupt As #DemandSafeSchools Takes Off

"I do not want to be an experiment."

Black Lives Matter, United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the Democratic Socialists of America, and other groups gathered on the National Day of Resistance to protest against reopening of schools and for police-free schools.

Black Lives Matter, United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the Democratic Socialists of America, and other groups gathered on the National Day of Resistance to protest against reopening of schools and for police-free schools. (Photo: Ron Adar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The hashtag #DemandSafeSchools lit up Twitter on Monday as teachers and students in districts across the country took part in protests over plans for in-person learning in fall despite safety concerns from Covid-19.

Actions took place in dozens of major cities including Milwaukee, Chicago, Phoenix, and New York, with some advocates joining the day of action with virtual displays of support.

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio has called for a hybrid learning model—a plan students and teachers taking part in Monday's march said isn't safe, especially given school buildings' poor ventilation systems.

"We don't have a cure, we don't have a vaccine for Covid, and I don't think the plans that have been presented by the mayor or the chancellor are safe," parent Dr. Kaliris Salas told local ABC7.

A group of about 20 teachers in Columbus, Ohio on Monday put in clear terms the potential consequences of staff and students physically returning to schools while the pandemic still rages.

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Messages on their cars windows included "One dead child is one too many" and "We are not your science experiment."

A protester takes part in the National Resistance Day in Chicago on Aug. 3, 2020. (Photo: Ervin Lopez/CC BY 2.0)To truly ensure safety in schools safe, the Demand Safe Schools coalition, a group that includes United Teachers Los Angels and the Center for Popular Democracy, laid out far-reaching demands:

  • No reopening until the scientific data supports it
  • Police-free schools
  • All schools must be supported to function as community schools with adequate numbers of counselors and nurses and community/parent outreach workers
  • Safe conditions including lower class sizes, PPE, cleaning, testing, and other key protocols Equitable access to online learning
  • Support for our communities and families, including canceling rents and mortgages, a moratorium on evictions/foreclosures, providing direct cash assistance to those not able to work or who are unemployed, and other critical social needs
  • Moratorium on new charter or voucher programs and standardized testing
  • Massive infusion of federal money to support the reopening funded by taxing billionaires and Wall Street
  • Equitable access to online learning

The Monday demonstrations came as a new Gallup poll revealed fewer parents want schools to have in person learning.

The survey conducted July 13-July 27 showed just 36% of parents want full-time, in-person schooling—a 20% drop from Gallup's May 25-June 8 survey. Support for full-time remote learning, meanwhile, spiked from just 7% to 28%. Feelings about hybrid learning were relatively unchanged, with support dropping slightly from 37% down to 36%—though that learning model represents what Dr. William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, described last month as "probably among the worst that we could be putting forward, if our goal is to stop the virus getting into schools."

The Trump administration, meanwhile, continues to push for school reopenings. That's despite new estimates from researchers out of the University of Texas at Austin that showed, as the New York Times reported, "Based on current infection rates, more than 80 percent of Americans live in a county where at least one infected person would be expected to show up to a school of 500 students and staff in the first week, if school started today."

Andrea Parker, a Chicago elementary school teacher, says the health risks of in-person leaning are simply too great.

"I do not want to put my students or myself in harm's way," she said. "I do not want to be an experiment."

The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which endorsed the Demand for Safe Schools campaign, said in a statement Monday that the problems schools are currently facing are exacerbated by years of inadequate funding.

"Teachers across the country are being crushed by an international pandemic, years of austerity, and the shameful, growing inequalities of our rigged economy," said DSA national political committee member and parent Jen McKinney.

"In this crisis, politicians have abandoned our children while families like mine lose their incomes. We need economic support so our kids can stay home and safe," McKinney said, adding that she refuses to "be pitted against school staff being forced back to work with inadequate PPE and no hazard pay while  corporations are reaping untold billions of dollars in aid."

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