Leadership at the Indiana chapter of the nation’s second largest teachers union said Tuesday, if schools can not guarantee a safe and healthy environment throughout the pandemic -- virtual learning should be the only option.
And if school boards won’t approve a switch to remote learning at buildings where educators feel unsafe, teachers could be left with no choice but to walk out.
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) approved a resolution last week to support so-called “safety strikes” among local unions if health precautions at schools are not met. The AFT has 1.7 million members.
GlenEva Dunham, president of the AFT Indiana, says the state chapter supports the national resolution. Teachers are not allowed to strike under Indiana labor laws, but experts have said little could be done to stop it.
“The members of AFT Indiana will not be bullied or threatened to return to situations that are not safe," Dunham said during a virtual press conference.
There are no plans for any associations under AFT’s umbrella to strike in Indiana. Membership in the state is around 4,500 AFT members at 27 school districts.
"We are watching it day by day,” said Dunham, who is also the Gary Teachers Union president. “We are just asking them to keep us safe. If they don't keep us safe, we will go to the next step."
Dunham says teachers and parents are worried about in-person instruction, as seen with teachers protesting at Avon Community Schools and parents who spoke out Monday before an East Chicago Schools board meeting.
Since last week, multiple schools around the state reported students and staff testing positive for COVID-19. That’s led to the temporary closure of school buildings and suspending athletic teams.
The AFT's national resolution also calls for schools' in-person reopening to happen only if the community infection rate among those tested is below 5 percent and the transmission rate is less than 1 percent.
Gov. Eric Holcomb has not ordered a statewide metric for reopening despite requests from school leaders and the state's largest teacher union, the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA). Last week, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett set infection rate metrics for all public and private schools in Marion County to follow.
AFT Indiana is demanding: coronavirus testing and contract tracing must be available in local communities for schools; “safe guards,” such as providing proper personal protective equipment for teachers; and educators in schools have all resources they need.
Recently, the Indiana Association of School Business Officials reported some schools are seeing delays in receiving those supplies.
On Tuesday, the Indiana State Department of Health added 836 confirmed COVID-19 cases to the state's total, raising it to 69,255. The new cases were confirmed Aug. 3. The seven-day infection positivity rate is 7.3 percent.
Last month, Holcomb mandated masks for all school children in grade three and up, with some exceptions.