Biden Tells Teachers Trump Must Offer Plan to Keep Schools Safe Amid COVID-19 Strike Threat

Joe Biden called on President Donald Trump to follow his roadmap to safely open schools as members of the second-largest teachers union threatened a possible strike as the coronavirus surges in many states across the nation.

Speaking to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Thursday, Biden said Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are offering meager support to schools and local governments and Trump wants to force schools to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic without safety precautions in place.

"It's not close to what's needed and it's being used as a cudgel to force schools to reopen when they may not be ready to reopen," Biden said, adding that he recently released his roadmap for reopening schools which is based on science—and hopes Trump at least looks at it.

"Donald Trump may continue to force educators and students back into the classroom without a plan to keep them safe," he said during the union's virtual convention.

Biden's comments came a day after AFT president Randi Weingarten floated the idea that her 1.7 million-member union may consider teacher's strikes in states such as Florida, Arizona, and Texas, where COVID-19 cases are spiking.

"You have to actually be true to your convictions," Weingarten told Politico. "And if that means a safety strike as a last resort, that's what it means. If you believe that the safety and health of people are really sacrosanct, then you've got to be able to sacrifice for it."

Biden did not address the call for a possible strike and he was not asked about it during a question and answer that followed.

Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, a 3 million-member labor union, told Newsweek strikes are possible in the future and the organization insists on safety and equity for its teachers and students.

"Nobody wants to see students back in the classroom more than educators, but when it comes to their safety, we're not ready to take any options off the table," she said.

"We have to be very cautious about the lives of children and adults," said writer and activist Diane Ravitch, on the AFT livestream before Biden spoke.

AFT endorsed Biden during its virtual convention ahead of his remarks.

Weingarten and Eskelsen García were both on the Biden-Sanders unity task force on education, which called for teachers to be classified as essential workers and be protected in the same way. The task force recommendations, which also called for raises for teachers, said Democrats will "direct the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to develop an emergency temporary standard to protect frontline workers, including educators, from COVID-19."

Biden added that it's "absolutely unacceptable" that 900,000 educators have lost their jobs, saying that Trump must stop playing "political games" and that slashed budgets which cost teachers their jobs were due to how badly he mishandled the response to the outbreak.

Trump campaign spokesman Ken Farnaso told Newsweek that Biden is "beholden to teachers unions and radical left" rather than students and families.

"President Trump puts American students' wellbeing first and is working tirelessly to ensure that parents can safely send their kids back to school," he said. "Democrats, led by Joe Biden, have done nothing but fearmonger and call for schools and offices to continue to be indefinitely closed."

Biden also took questions from health professionals and a black paraprofessional who said the killing of George Floyd by police hurt her deeply because her son was also killed. The former Vice President shared his condolences and said he knows what it's like to lose two children, one to an accident and one to disease. The educator touched her heart and mouthed the words "thank you."

Joe biden aft
Joe Biden spoke to the American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed him, after the powerful union floated the possibility of teacher's strikes in states where the coronavirus is surging. AFT Livestream