School amid the pandemic is 'a tale of two countries,' teachers union boss says

·3-min read

Schools across the country have reopened with many students returning to their classrooms after a year of remote learning amid the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, however, reopening hasn't been entirely smooth sailing. 

In fact, "it's kind of a tale of two countries here," Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). "Teachers have done an amazing job. They're just heroic, and they know that kids need to be in school."

Though some districts have implemented mask mandates, improved ventilation systems, and pushed as many eligible Americans as possible to get vaccinated — on top of implementing a good testing and containment process — others have diverged on these COVID-19 mitigation measures, reflecting a lack of preparedness, she said.

Sweet Gonzelaz, a member of the 'Community Patriots', protests against wearing masks in schools in Largo, Florida,  August 9, 2021. REUTERS/Octavio Jones
Sweet Gonzelaz, a member of the 'Community Patriots', protests against wearing masks in schools in Largo, Florida, August 9, 2021. REUTERS/Octavio Jones

"The places that did that and have kind of worked together with administration and teachers and community have actually had a pretty good opening of school and ... whenever there's an outbreak, dealt with it pretty well," Weingarten said, "and you see that, frankly, throughout most of California. You see that through a lot of places in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts."

But, she continued, when "you get to the South, where there's been really heroic work done by superintendents, and school boards, and teachers to keep kids safe and to get back to school ... the politics have been crazy."

'Culture war' over school mask mandates

Across the country, school boards have been ensnared in battles with parents over the issue of mask mandates. 

Local outlets recently reported numerous instances of disagreement over masks: A fight broke out in a Minnesota school board meeting, legal challenges are being mounted in school districts in New Hampshire, and in Florida, unrest and hostility has rattled many board members.

School board members have turned to the federal government for help, asking the president to protect teachers and community members from the angry groups of people who are railing against COVID safety protocols.

Recently, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent a letter to President Joe Biden on behalf of school board members and officials across the country that "America’s public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat," Viola Garcia and Chip Slaven, the group's president and interim executive director, said in a statement to Reuters about the letter.

"The National School Boards Association respectfully asks for federal law enforcement and other assistance to deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation," the letter stated.

The fact that parents have pushed back against safety measures for their children in schools is something Weingarten wasn't expecting. 

"I didn't know that a mask would be this kind of a culture war when it is really there just to make sure — particularly since younger kids still can't get vaccinated — to try to stop the transmission of still a very dangerous virus," she said. 

And ultimately, the fights breaking out have been frustrating for educators overall, leaving many "wondering what happened to our country, that we're not all in this together to try to help our kids and create a welcoming, safe environment," she added.

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Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at aarthi@yahoofinance.com. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.

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