The right to safe work is an internationally recognized human right. Unfortunately, it is a human right that is largely ignored by US employment laws and a right that is being violated in this time of COVID.
For teachers, the forced return to face-to-face education is a clear violation of this most basic human right
A return to face-to-face is not safe and it is not reasonable. Even in countries where schools returned face-to-face, that had much lower infection rates than the United States, the schools saw surges in COVID cases and often had to shut down. Schools in the US are opening with higher infection rates than any other country has had as they have attempted to open schools.
This is not an experiment as Dr. Fauci has suggested. It is a forced disaster. We have already seen school and school-like settings across the US have resulted in surges of the virus (WVU, Clemson, Westchester School, Georgia Camp) and have often had to immediately shut down (one day after opening in Indiana and two days after opening in Tennessee).
The evidence is clear, and we cannot close our eyes to the fact that children do get infected with COVID, children do spread the virus, children do get sick from the virus, children to have to be hospitalized, end up in ICU, have to be intubated, and even die from the virus.
We also have to open our eyes to the fact that 25% or more of our school educators and staff are particularly vulnerable to the virus. We know parents are demanding a return to face-to-face, but they have little understanding of what that will look like. Dr. Fauci has warned teachers that they should be sure to wear a medical-grade mask, goggles, gloves, and disposable clothes coverings. Teachers if they are forced to face-to-face will have to be sure they are at least six feet away from students, that students are six feet away from each other, and that students are all wearing masks. There can be no personal contact. Students who contract or are suspected of contracting the virus will have to be placed in isolation rooms. There absolutely cannot be any so called “normal” return to face-to-face.
We need better information
So much of this push for face-to-face has occurred because parents are misinformed or uninformed about the virus as well as potential options they have to qualify for leave and accommodations in the workplace. Many teachers are also unaware of the rights they have to leave, accommodations, and safe work.
This guide is meant to provide some of that information. Having this information is one tool in our fight for safe schools. Using it is another.
But these tools alone are not a silver bullet. They will not solve this situation on their own.
However, we cannot afford to leave any tool in the toolbox as we fight this battle. We must use everything available to us – concerted action, legal action, and public action.
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