President Donald Trump's insistence that all K-12 schools reopen in the fall has caused a backlash among parents and teachers, according to Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teacher's union in the country.
Between the middle and the end of June, the union polled its membership and found that 76 percent supported reopening if certain measures were put in place first. Those included ensuring the rate of infection was as low as possible, making sure testing and tracing systems were in place, and allocating extra resources to schools to help protect students and teachers.
While the recent surge of cases across the country had shifted expectations for where and how schools could reopen, Weingarten told Cheddar, many teachers still wanted to move ahead because of the crucial social and educational role that schools hold in students' lives.
Now Trump is pushing back against those measures, calling the CDC's guidelines for reopening "very tough & expensive" in a tweet and threatening to cut funding to schools that don't reopen.
The politicization of school reopenings by Trump has scared off teachers who before were "overwhelmingly" in support of heading back in the fall, Weingarten said.
"Normally, it doesn't matter if you're Republican or Democrat, politicians don't play with children's lives," she said. "But this is not a normal president, and this is par for the course."
Teachers themselves are also putting themselves at risk. One study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found one in four teachers, or 1.5 million total nationally, are at greater risk of serious illness if they contract COVID-19.
The union has maintained its demand that the administration help provides personal protective equipment and additional nurses to schools before reopening. It would also like to see a more comprehensive plan for reopening that addresses things such as social distancing and mask.s
"Donald Trump is doing none of the above," Weingarten said. "He's denying that there is a virus. He does not have a plan. And they have not provided any resources, only threats. As a result, I think you're going to see less and less schools opening."