Teachers union: Opening schools too early is 'harmful to military readiness'

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The Federal Education Association says in-person instruction at schools for children of military members presents 'unacceptable health and safety risks.'

A teachers union warned the Department of Defense against reopening schools too soon, saying such action threatens the health of students and puts military readiness at risk.

On Tuesday, the Federal Education Association wrote that reopening schools for in-person instruction at the beginning of the school year "presents unacceptable health and safety risks to students, employees, and their families" in a letter to Tom Brady, director of the Department of Defense Education Activity.

"We realize the important role DoDEA schools play in support of the military but a physical reopening of schools under present conditions risks turning students and employees into spreaders of the virus – which would be incredibly harmful to military readiness," the union wrote.

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Brady's department runs 160 schools on military bases both in the United States and around the world, serving nearly 70,000 children of active duty service members and civilian staff.

The union urged Brady to opt for virtual schooling to start the year.

"Students and spouses who become infected will bring the virus home to active military parents, thus impacting military readiness," the union noted in a fact sheet accompanying the letter.

The union also expressed concerned that Defense Department schools lacked enough personal protective equipment to reopen safely, and that schools would not follow all reopening guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Defense Department did not respond to a request for comment, nor did it respond to the Military Times, which first reported on the union's letter.

"We need to listen to our teachers and our frontline workers in the civilian world, and on these bases," Will Goodwin, an Army veteran and director of government relations for VoteVets, a veterans advocacy group, said in a phone interview on Thursday. "If the teachers are saying it's not safe, it's not safe."

The Trump administration has pushed all schools to physically reopen this fall, with Trump himself often leading the charge.

"Reopening our schools is also critical to ensuring that parents can go to work and provide for their families," Trump said on Wednesday. In the past, Trump has threatened to cut off federal funding from schools that do not reopen for in-person learning.

"Schools can reopen safely, and they must reopen," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in early July. "Kids need to be in the classroom, they need to be with their peers, they need to be with their teachers, and they need to continue learning."

Other unions have warned about the rush to reopen without adequate funding and protective measures in place.

"There's a way to do this right and there's the way Donald Trump is saying to do it, which puts people in danger," Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, said in early June.

"Without a comprehensive plan that includes federal resources to provide for the safety of our students and educators with funding for Personal Protective Equipment, socially distanced instruction, and addressing racial inequity, we could be putting students, their families, and educators in danger," several education and parent groups wrote in a joint letter to Trump on July 7.

While the administration pushes schools to reopen, the FEA letter sparked bipartisan concern from Congress.

"Public health experts like those at the CDC have made clear that we need to reduce the spread of the virus and implement comprehensive preventive measures in our schools in order to reopen classrooms safely," Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI), vice chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, said Thursday in an email.

"If the Department of Defense refuses to follow those guidelines, it cannot expect to keep our service members and their children safe," he added.

"This is an issue the Committee is watching closely," Claude Chafin, spokesperson for Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said Thursday in an email. Chafin defended DoDEA, adding that "it appears that the Department is taking the safety of DoDEA students and educators seriously and making responsible decisions."

One congressional aide noted that Congress has "requested additional information about [DoDEA's] plans for virtual and in-person instruction," a request that asks for "plans for protective measures that includes but is not limited to PPE."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.