Will Washington teachers’ unions support the CDC’s reopening guidelines?

Feb 19, 2021, 1:03 PM

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now saying it’s safe for teachers to go back into the classroom, even without being vaccinated, is the union going to support that? Larry Delaney, president of the Washington Education Association, joined Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross to discuss.

“We are glad that the CDC released this guidance, and certainly we support the CDC guidelines,” he said. “I think it’s important to recognize that although they said vaccinations are not required, they did also say that educators should be prioritized in the process, and certainly that’s something that we continue to advocate for here in Washington.”

Delaney believes that vaccine prioritization regarding teachers should not simply be based on age, but the setting in which they’re working.

“Well, so educators right now are prioritized based on age, and educators who are 65 and over are eligible to get a vaccine,” he explained. “And so we believe the prioritization should be based on whether they’re currently working in an in-person setting or not, rather than their age.”

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“We’ve had dialogue back and forth. I think the governor has made his position very clear that he believes that vaccinations should be prioritized based on age. He has reiterated that many times,” Delaney added. “We disagree. We believe that prioritization should be given to educators working in-person.”

As Dave asked, will the union then recommend that teachers not return to school if they’re told to?

“Well, those are local decisions. I don’t know that we’ve seen any local union anywhere in the state double down on that line in the sand, but certainly our members, like society, is split,” he said. “We’ve got members who adamantly believe that it’s not safe to return to in-person teaching until there’s a vaccine. We’ve got educators who believe that it can be safe, given all of the other mitigation strategies.”

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“We’re certainly advocating and working with school districts and local union leaders to establish policies and procedures that would allow for an educator who does not feel safe to continue to work in a distance learning environment,” he added. “There’s a certain percentage of students and families as well that don’t feel comfortable going.”

Delaney says that ideally teachers who are not comfortable returning to in-person learning would be matched with parents and students who also aren’t comfortable, though he recognizes the concept would be logistically difficult.

“In an ideal situation, we’d be able to match those educators — who also are not comfortable with the return — with those students,” he said. “That presents all sorts of logistical challenges. We realize that would involve separating students from their current teachers. We recognize that there’s challenges with that as well. But across the state, locals are working with districts to ensure that options are available for those educators who don’t feel comfortable going back in-person.”

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Will Washington teachers’ unions support the CDC’s reopening guidelines?