AFT president schools Trump Jr.: ‘Your father’s admin didn’t help us reopen safely, so now we’re in this situation’

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Over the weekend, Donald Trump Jr. launched a rambling, agitated attack on educators, school staff and their unions. Looking straight into the camera and perched in front of a wall covered with mounted assault weapons, Trump Jr. told his followers that “teacher unions” are “out of control” and the reason many kids aren’t in school. Later, he went after the AFT by name.

We aren’t going to link to Trump Jr.’s posts here because we don’t believe it’s helpful to amplify unhinged distortions, but his rants earned swift condemnation from teachers, media outlets here and abroad, comedians, musicians and a lot of active Twitter users. While the younger Trump is not known for making sound, fact-based arguments, many people noted his choice to issue a call to action surrounded by guns, just days after the third anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Fla.

It’s no surprise that, after a year of doing nothing to get our schools the resources they desperately needed to reopen safely, Republican leaders have resorted to their familiar tactic of attacking unions to cover for their own failings. Ironically, Trump Jr.’s deliberate misinformation about school reopening also served to remind people how the nation’s public schools ended up in this situation:

Trump Jr.’s social media activity is never a measure of accurate reporting or sound judgment, but it is a window into the coordinated effort of Republican leaders and other extremists on the far right to attack teachers and their unions and spread disinformation to shift blame away from the Trump administration’s failure to address a deadly pandemic.

And the public knows it. Parents and voters trust teachers unions to be a voice for reopening schools safely. Perhaps that’s because anyone with a TV, radio or internet browser can easily gather the facts on the AFT’s well-documented efforts to get schools the resources and supports needed to reopen safely, and they can see for themselves how much AFT members have done to educate, feed and comfort our students during this crisis. And they know who left them in the lurch.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll keep saying it to make sure we cut through the noise: Following the science and public health guidelines, we know what it takes to reopen schools safely.

  • COVID-19 testing must become a way of life in schools, and we need to test regularly and rapidly to monitor the virus.
  • Proper safety protocols, including masks, physical distancing, cleaning and sanitizing procedures, and ventilation upgrades, must be implemented in every school.
  • High-risk teachers and school staff need appropriate accommodations to keep them safe.
  • Vaccine prioritization for teachers and school staff should be aligned with priorities for in-person learning.
  • Given the new variants, communities need a metric for community infection rates that will trigger increasing safeguards, including temporary closures.
  • Safety committees, situation rooms and building walk-throughs build trust and help to abate fear about reopening.

Big cities and small towns alike have been able to reopen schools for in-person classes, and we’ve shared case studies, best practices and lessons learned with many other communities trying to get kids back in the classroom. A full 85 percent of AFT members are ready to go back to in-person instruction—with the necessary safeguards in place. And with President Joe Biden’s $1.9 billion American Rescue Plan poised to pass through Congress, schools will finally get the resources they need to get teachers and kids back in the classroom safely.

The Trump administration will be remembered for its deliberate misinformation strategies and its inaction on the COVID-19 pandemic. Now Donald Trump Jr. and other right-wing extremists seem bent on carrying the former president’s agenda forward on Twitter and elsewhere. Our urgent need for a national recovery makes it even more imperative that the facts are assembled and amplified.

The truth is plain: We can reopen safely, we should reopen safely, and we are happy the Biden administration is helping in that regard.

[Brianna Meeks/Michelle Ringuette]