Some of the nation’s leading teachers unions are backing a “safe schools” plan that outlines what teachers and administrators need for students to return to classrooms either amid or immediately following the coronavirus pandemic, but few of the topline demands have much to do with COVID-19.
In a document labeled “demands,” the group, under the banner of the Journeys for Justice Alliance, claims that no return to classrooms will be truly “healthy” until those same schools are also “equitable.” And to that end, they have a list of eight demands that outline conditions under which union teachers may agree to return to in-classroom instruction.
At least two of the demands are, in fact, related to the novel coronavirus, with teachers demanding “safe conditions including lower class sizes, PPE, cleaning, testing, and other key protocols equitable access to online learning,” and at least one other is tangentially related, asking that “all schools must be supported to function as community schools with adequate numbers of counselors and nurses and community/parent outreach workers.”
The list also notes that schools should not be required to open until “scientific data” supports a mass return to classrooms.
But in addition to PPE and cleaning requirements, the list of demands also includes “police-free schools” — a marked change from previous memos which, following a rash of school shootings, demanded heavier security for at-risk schools — a “moratorium” on evictions and foreclosures, direct financial handouts to those with unspecified “critical social needs,” a “moratorium on charter and voucher programs and standardized testing,” “adequate and equitable funding,” and a fresh influx of cash for public schools provided by “taxing billionaires and Wall Street.”
Although it’s not directly specified, Journeys for Justice Alliance, the Chicago-based activist organization that authored the list of demands, also wants a full moratorium on private education, not just charter schools and voucher programs.
Several large teachers unions, including the one that serves Los Angeles Public Schools, have made similar demands, issuing individual statements to school districts. The “Equity or Else” agenda, though, is a collective effort, supported by the Chicago Teachers Union, the Boston Teachers Union, United Teachers Los Angeles, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the Center for Popular Democracy, the St. Paul Federation of Educators, Midwest Academy, the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, National Educators United, the Racine Educators United, the Little Rock Education Association, the Oakland Education Association, and, of course, the Democratic Socialists of America.
The group is also looking to host a “national day of action” on August 3rd, right before many states make the final decision whether to allow in-person learning during the 2020-2021 school year.
So far, at least in Chicago, the demands are going unmet. Although the city does not appear to be headed toward mandatory in-person instruction in 2020, a policy, which would have removed Chicago Police Officers and other safety officials from city schools, was voted down 4-3 by the Chicago School Board.