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From The New York Times, I'm Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily. So far, the debate over school openings has been dominated by a president who is determined to send students back into classrooms.
We want to reopen the schools. Everybody wants the moms want the dads want it. The kids want it. It's time to do it. And by local school officials who are answering that call.
So we're very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools. Today, my colleague Dana Goldstein on why teachers and their unions are defying those plans.
It's Thursday, August 13th. Good evening. I stand here tonight not only as governor of Florida, but as a husband, a father, a son and a friend to have a conversation about how we as Floridians approach these challenging times as a parent of three.
I know that my fellow parents here in Florida want nothing more than to provide a bright future for their children. And here's the hard truth. While the risk to students from in-person learning are low, the cost of keeping schools closed are enormous.
Tell me about this situation with schools in Florida in early July, just as the Trump administration from Washington was pushing schools to reopen their physical campuses across the country. Florida was the state that really leaned heavily in that same direction under their Republican governor, Ron de Santos.
The important thing is that our parents have a meaningful choice when it comes to in-person education. Let's not let fear get the best of us and harm our children in the process. A state issued this executive order.
The state is announcing it's requiring all schools to reopen for in-person classes next month, August, telling schools that they had to reopen five days a week.
So that announcement coming today. Given where Florida is your analysis, if I mean, my analysis is that that is insane.
And this was shocking to superintendents and school boards. They had spent the months of May, June into July mostly planning for a hybrid model of education. Kids would go to school two or three or maybe even just one day a week in person and be home learning online the rest of the time, school districts, all of a sudden we're being told you have to offer parents and families the option of five days a week in the building so we are not ready to open schools.
And always we need to slow down and take a poll and get this right around the state first.
And what would happen if schools didn't physically reopen five days a week? You know, I think the kind of underlying threat was that you would lose state dollars if you don't provide families with this option for in-person learning. And this threat to them was quite scary because state funding for education is the main funding that funds our school system in the United States.
And what was the state of the pandemic when the state of Florida makes this demand?
So these numbers were so shocking to us when we did reporting on this that we actually fact checked them many, many times to make sure they were correct.
Florida shattering its daily record, recording more than 15000 cases, accounting for a quarter of the total new daily cases in the United States in some South Florida counties in the month of July.
South Florida's Miami-Dade has seen a staggering daily positivity rate of 33 percent.
Between 20 and 30 percent of coronavirus tests were coming back positive. And the World Health Organization, the state of California, the state of New York, have tended to use a range of about five percent to 10 percent test positivity rates as something to look at when deciding whether or not to open schools.
So here you might see four times that number in a city like Miami here in Miami-Dade, according to county data released yesterday, the goal for the county is not to exceed 10 percent.
They have exceeded that for the past 14 days, a strong indication that the virus is completely unchecked in that region. And in fact, it was one of the most dangerous cities for the virus in the United States.
So what was the reaction across Florida to this executive order? Anger, if the governor wants to open schools publicly, how about we invite him to come and teach in the classroom?
You know, a lot of teachers and educators were angry.
If he wants to open schools, how about how we provide teachers would have replaced because that's exactly what you're doing. You're on the front lines of a pandemic that you didn't start you didn't call for and we don't have. Because they felt that their safety and in some respects safety of the entire community from a public health perspective was nowhere in this conversation.
I teach my students the history of America, how this government has run, how it works. This is a democracy. Our voices need to be heard.
And my inbox and social media were filled with messages from teachers.
So I want everyone to hear my voice that if I died from catching covid-19, from being forced back into Pinellas County School, you can drop my dead body right here. Right here.
And it was just this sense that the question of whether we should go back did not pay enough attention to teachers health risks. Do you feel ready to return to your classroom? I do not.
I personally have lost sleep over it. I've cried over it. I cry over it a lot. It's very, very scary. And the one thing I'm going to say, I will say online learning is not ideal, but it will keep our children safe. I'm a teacher.
I've been with Duval County for twenty three years. I have a mother at home that is sick and if I am to get the coronavirus, I don't want to bring it back to her. Yes, it's really important that kids get educated. It's really important that parents be able to work during the day and children have the basic child care that schools provide.
However, we teachers love our students and we agree that the best place for students is in school, but that's only if they're safe is going to school. It's more dangerous for our students or for their families than we should hold off and do some sort of distance learning or a hybrid model until it's safe for them. I think there's no way to social distance in our already crowded classrooms. There is not enough money to provide for the extra staff that we would need and the extra PPE that we would need.
I don't think that it's worth the risk. We are used to going into schools that sometimes don't have soap in the bathrooms, that sometimes have broken windows that prevent us from circulating fresh air, that have dated heating and ventilation systems. And where is our house in this equation? This is not how I want to go back and I want to go back so bad because I. I love teaching. I miss my classroom. I miss my kids.
So what did teachers in Florida do, the largest teachers union in Florida is suing the state over its executive order mandating that schools reopen next month with in-person instruction.
So a bunch of the local and national union groups that represent teachers came together and they sued the state of Florida in the lawsuit.
The union says the state is unconstitutionally forcing millions of students and teachers into unsafe schools, saying that this executive order requiring schools to reopen five days a week in person actually violated Florida's own state law. That also calls for schools to be safe.
The suit says children are at risk of contracting and spreading the virus and of developing severe illness resulting in death. And the state mandate to open schools is impossible to comply with CDC guidelines on physical distancing, hygiene and sanitation if schools are operating at full capacity.
It's really very simple what they were arguing that going back five days a week is not safe and therefore it cannot be legal. Huh.
I have to think that it's a pretty unusual act. You know, teachers suing to stop their own schools from reopening.
Yes, it's definitely unusual and notable. And interestingly, it paved the way for similar threats to sue across the country, including in northern cities like Chicago and New York.
And shortly after this Florida suit came down, the American Federation of Teachers has told it's one point seven million members that if they choose to strike, the union will have their back.
The American Federation of Teachers, which is one of the two national unions, authorized any of their locals across the country to plan a strike in the event that safety precautions are not being met to reopen schools.
Wow, so a national teachers union saying a grounds for striking, which traditionally we've always thought of as wages, health care, those kinds of issues, they're now saying you may decide to strike over unsafe school conditions in the middle of a pandemic. Exactly.
The threat to strike is very powerful and pragmatic because once teachers threatened to strike over the safety measures and questions of funding, it really puts pressure on the local school districts to give them a big seat at the table. And just the core decision, which is are we even going to try to have any person school this fall?
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So, Dana, as teachers are seeking a place at the table and threatening to strike if they don't feel like schools are safe, what exactly are they asking for in order to feel ready to return to the classroom?
We're seeing a very broad range of demands from teachers, and it runs the spectrum from very specific and achievable requests to ones that are hugely ambitious, time consuming, expensive or maybe even impossible to achieve while we're still experiencing any transmission of covid-19.
What do you mean? So, for example, in Orlando, when I spoke to teachers there in July, the requests were really quite reasonable. They wanted facemasks to be required. They wanted temperature checks and all school district buildings. And then the American Federation of Teachers, the national union that authorized strikes, had a very specific set of demands that they were looking for nationally. They wanted to see test positivity rates for the virus below five percent, transmission rates below one percent, effective contact tracing for the entire region, the school to require masks, update ventilation systems and put in place procedures to maintain six feet of distance, while so very much sort of in line with CDC guidelines for being as safe as possible.
So the union is making demands of an entire community and level of infection and transmission and contact tracing beyond the school. Exactly.
They're expecting those things to work in the whole region before you sort of even get to the question of what sort of PPE is available to teachers, something like that. What about less practical requests from teachers? So there you see this big movement bubbling up on social media under the hashtag 14 days, no new cases. And this is really quite a radical demand for schools not to reopen physically until there are no new cases in a region for 14 days. Now, many nations have been able to reopen their schools safely without achieving that standard.
And when I've spoken to public health experts about this, what they say is 14 days, no new cases is not just a control pandemic. It's essentially the end of the pandemic and that region. And it might require a vaccine to get to that standard, not just a vaccine that exists and works, but that has actually been deployed widely. When will that occur? Will that occur six months from now, 12 months from now? Two years from now?
We just don't know the answer to that. And those start to be very big numbers. When you're thinking about children being out of school.
I wonder what these demands from teachers look like to parents in this moment.
I mean, I'm mindful that many parents want their kids to return to school for a variety of very understandable reasons.
That's right. I mean, I think the really hard thing is that there is no consensus or even strong majority opinion among parents. One recent national poll found about 60 percent of parents at this moment believe it's smarter to delay reopening physical schools until the virus subsides somewhat and there are more safety measures in place. But in some big cities where the virus has been relatively well controlled, like New York and Chicago, polls have found that a majority of families do have some willingness to send their kids back to school.
And to add another layer of complication. It tends to be parents of color and low income parents that are the most scared of the health threats to their children of congregating in school buildings. But those families are also the most concerned about their kids falling back socially and academically because schools are closed. So there is just no consensus among parents as to what they feel is safe. It would in some ways be easier if American parents all agreed with each other about what was right here.
And of course, in the absence of physically returning to schools, we're left with online learning. And we have covered on the show the problems with how teachers and school districts are approaching.
Yeah. So in the spring, only a small segment of American school districts actually required teachers to teach life lessons over something like Zoome video. And here I think there is actually more risk of tension between parents and teachers because we're starting to see from polls what parents are asking for in a situation of continued remote learning. They were not happy that in the spring many of their kids did not see teachers leave over video. Many teachers were interacting with their students primarily over email at sort of random times per day.
And that's not what parents want. They want their students to log on at very specific times and be in something like an online class where they would have small group breakout sessions and discussions and have the opportunity to ask the teacher questions and get individualized feedback. And teachers unions are still, in some cases, resisting some of these practices, including even showing their faces on live video. And why would that be?
I guess I'm confused if teachers are deeply reluctant to return to schools for very understandable reasons that you just outlined. And they don't feel school districts are meeting them halfway. Why would they simultaneously be resisting a more enriched online remote teaching experience?
Well, some of them make the argument that it's not fair to provide too much live instruction because students who don't have an adult to supervise their online learning at home, say, at exactly 10:00 a.m., just miss out on the live lesson. So they think that that mode of education is not effective. But I've also heard some arguments much simpler than that, that they don't want their homes to be shown. They're not comfortable in that medium, and they believe it's a violation of their own privacy to be shown from home and that way.
So it's a range of different arguments there that would seem to raise a real crisis.
I mean, teachers both not wanting to be in classrooms, but also not wanting to teach online the way parents want them to.
Well, this has been the sort of crux of these. Very tense latest negotiations across the country between teachers and school district leaders.
I know a bunch of school districts around the country have actually started classes in schools, and I wonder how that has played out.
Well, there have been some horror stories, unfortunately, in Georgia. This photo of a crowded hallway, no mask in sight from North Paulding High School went viral after the school opened for in-person learning on August 3rd for one of the first school districts to reopen, which was in Georgia.
Hundreds of staff were told to stay home because of potential exposure to the virus.
Today, the school remained closed a week after that reopening in Indiana.
One student at Greenfield Central Junior High tested positive on the very first day of school. Right away, this junior high school was having to call teachers and students families and ask them to stay home for two weeks.
Students at Elwood Junior Senior High now have to go remote after staff members there tested positive for covid-19. Now, that's extremely alarming, but I want to say that nobody who's a public health or education expert believes that we're going to reopen schools without students and teachers showing up from time to time positive for covid-19. That's not a realistic expectation. But what we do need is procedures in place to deal with that when it happens. I mean, it needs to be clear who is getting told to stay home for two weeks and as their access to testing for anyone who came in contact with that positive individual.
So in many ways, I think these anecdotes that we're hearing of kind of first day back crises in towns and cities that are trying to reopen physically do show that, you know, many of the concerns that teachers have brought to the table here are quite legitimate.
So those are a small number of districts that have already reopened. But of course, many of the nation's largest school districts, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., among others, are now firmly saying that they will not physically reopen schools, at least initially. And that represents millions of students. So do teachers unions and teachers see that as a kind of victory? They do see it as a victory.
Absolutely. They believe that it's not only what's necessary to protect their health, but to prevent schools emerging as potential hotspots for spreading covid-19.
But I think within that victory, there's also a real tragedy for American children and actually for our country, because to be in a place where the needs of public health and safety are really juxtaposed against our ability to fully educate our kids is to be in a place that very few other developed nations are in right now.
And it is because of our failure to control the pandemic itself.
We are looking at the real likelihood that millions or tens of millions of children do not attend school for an entire year, a full year of no school. And we just know that it's going to lead to big problems. It's going to make kids less likely to learn to read. It's going to probably lead to higher high school dropout rates. It's going to lead to students who don't have enough to eat because school is where they are fed and to students that don't have access to the mental health counseling and the special education services that they get at schools.
So the fact that we're having to choose between everything crucial that the physical school provides and public health, it's stunning.
It's stunning to me as a 15 year veteran on the education beat and just also as a parent, you know, my daughter is going to come through this pandemic just fine. Know she has access to a great childcare and we have a lot of resources in our home and family to bring her through this. But still, it's it's really sad for our family that she's missing the preschool experience that we really wanted her to have. Like it's been months since she was with teachers and socializing with a group of students, and she started even to become more timid around other kids.
We've noticed when we do take those walks out to the playground and, you know, it's sad for our family and it's just a tiny microcosm of how sad it is for our country. Dana, thank you very much. Thank you so much, Michael. Starting this week, several Florida school districts began holding in-person classes even as the lawsuit filed by the state's teachers union moves ahead. A court hearing in that case is scheduled for later today. Meanwhile, in New York City on Wednesday, the influential unions representing principals and teachers called on the city to delay starting in-person instruction by several weeks.
In a statement, one of the union's leaders said that the city had failed to address teachers safety concerns and had failed to give them enough time to implement complicated safety protocols. We'll get back. This podcast is supported by Quarmby presenting about Face, a new Quimby's show featuring the world's biggest beauty entrepreneurs. In this docu series, host Rosie Huntington Whiteley explores the stories of trailblazers that have revolutionized the beauty industry episodes. Feature moguls such as Kylie Jenner, Jen Atkin, Sajan and More about Face Only on Kubi could be the brand new streaming app featuring one of the kind shows that move you in minutes.
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Here's what else you need to know, a good afternoon, everyone, to me and to come on this exciting day, it's a great day for our campaign. It's a great day for America, in my view.
During their first joint appearance as a ticket on Wednesday, Joe Biden praised Kamala Harris for her record as the attorney general of California and as a United States senator, calling her an unapologetic advocate for justice.
Thank you, Joe. Thank you. Thank you, Joe. As I said, Joe, when you called me, I am incredibly honored by this responsibility. And I'm ready to get to work. I'm ready to get to work.
In her remarks, Harris immediately delivered a stinging indictment of President Trump as a self-absorbed leader who has repeatedly failed America above all, during the pandemic.
America is crying out for leadership. Yet we have a president who cares more about himself than the people who elected him, a president who is making every challenge we face even more difficult to solve. But here's the good news. We don't have to accept the failed government of Donald Trump and Mike Pence in just 83 days.
We have a chance to choose a better future.
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