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As school districts across the U.S. debate how to safely bring children into the classroom, we speak with two leaders of the teachers' union movement on what's at stake as schools reopen. Stacy Davis Gates, executive vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, says years of underfunding and privatization have left many school districts ill-equipped to meet the needs of students, as well as educators. "It's not just the context of opening schools. It's reopening schools safely with the resources that are necessary to keep people safe," she tells Democracy Now! We also speak with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who says when a clear safety program is in place, a majority of teachers are on board with returning to in-class instruction. "The people who are in school trust it and trust that they're going to be safe," Weingarten says.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show looking at the state of the nation's school a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. On Tuesday night, President Biden said teachers should be given higher priority to get vaccines, and he pledged to reopen the majority of elementary schools in his first 100 days. Biden made the comments at a town hall meeting in Milwaukee hosted by CNN's Anderson Cooper.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I think that we should be vaccinating teachers. We should move them up in the hierarchy, as well.
ANDERSON COOPER: Well, let me ask you. Your administration had set a goal to open the majority of schools in your first hundred days. You're now saying that means those schools may only be open for at least one day a week.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: No, that's not true. That's what was reported. That's not true, and it was a mistake in the communication. But what I've what I'm talking about is I said opening the majority of schools in K through eighth grade, because they're the easiest to open, the most needed to be open in terms of the impact on children and families having to stay home.
ANDERSON COOPER: So, when do you think that would be K through eight at least five days a week, if possible?
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I think we'll be I think we'll be close to that at the end of the first hundred days. We'd have a significant percentage of them being able to be opened. My guess is they're going to probably be pushing to open all for all summer, to continue like it's a different semester. [inaudible]
ANDERSON COOPER: Do you think that would be five days a week or just a couple?
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I think many of them, five days a week. The goal will be five days a week. Now, it's going to be harder to open up the high schools, for the reasons I said.
AMY GOODMAN: President Biden, speaking Tuesday night. This comes as many school districts across the nation are debating how to safely bring children back into the classroom. In Chicago, the city has begun reopening schools for the district's youngest students, following a fight between the city and the teachers' union over COVID protocols. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has faced criticism for saying schools can be reopened safely before teachers are vaccinated. This is CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky speaking earlier this month.
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY: I would also say that safe reopening of schools is not that vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.
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