Parenting in a Pandemic

Teachers push back against school reopening plans

Meghan McCarty Carino Jul 2, 2020
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An elementary school teacher reads to her class online as she sits in her empty classroom. Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Parenting in a Pandemic

Teachers push back against school reopening plans

Meghan McCarty Carino Jul 2, 2020
Heard on:
An elementary school teacher reads to her class online as she sits in her empty classroom. Andy Lyons/Getty Images
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One looming question affecting the recovery of the economy is whether schools will reopen this fall. For millions of working parents, the demands of child care during the pandemic have been devastating. Now, despite exploding COVID-19 cases in many parts of the country, a growing chorus of voices are demanding that schools reopen. But it’s not only kids that would be returning, but teachers as well, and many are raising questions about the risks.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday the city is moving “full steam ahead” with reopening schools in September, with limits on the number of students in each classroom, masks and hand-washing stations.

“My students’ bathrooms up till the beginning of March had broken sinks had no soap,” said Annie Tan, a special education teacher in Brooklyn. “How can I trust that all these safety protocols will actually be in place when schools reopen?”

Tan worries the city will put the economy ahead of human lives. New York delayed school closings in the early weeks of March, and 75 school employees in the city died of COVID-19.

“In New York City, we have seen the loss of life,” she said. “We know what it cost us.”

Across the country, teachers in places like Florida, Texas and Washington, D.C., are starting to push back against plans to reopen schools.

Harley Litzelman, a high school teacher in Oakland, California, started a national petition calling on teachers to refuse to return to the classroom until their counties reported no new virus cases for 14 days.

“At a certain point, it’s the responsibility of workers to withhold their labor and force the powers that be to do what they should have been doing months ago,” he said.

Teachers have been empowered in recent years by broad public support for strikes from West Virginia to California that demanded better school funding and smaller class sizes, but parents may be less likely to support keeping schools closed.

Lydia Bransten is a single mother in San Francisco who has to leave her 12-year-old daughter to go to work at St. Anthony’s Foundation, a charity that works with homeless and low-income people.

“I rely a lot on my neighbors, but also, you know, I rely a lot on my child. There’s a lot of pressure on her to self-regulate,” she said.

She’ll support teachers if they don’t feel safe, but at the same time, she’s worried for her daughter’s safety and development.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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