Indiana teachers union supports national threat to strike unsafe school reopening

AFT Indiana is calling for schools to open only if coronavirus cases are under control, schools have the needed safeguards and personal protective equipment, and resources including funding.  (Stephanie Wang/Chalkbeat)

Indiana’s American Federation of Teachers says it supports the national union’s resolution that calls on members to use “every action and tool available” to ensure schools reopen safely, including strikes.

“The members of AFT Indiana will not be threatened or bullied into returning to situations that are not safe,” said AFT Indiana President GlenEva Dunham. “Our lives and our children’s lives are at stake.”

During a press conference Tuesday, the union — which statewide represents around 4,500 educators and school support staff — made its call for schools to open only if coronavirus cases are under control, schools have the needed safeguards and personal protective equipment, and resources including funding. 

There are no current plans to strike, Dunham said, but the union is “watching it day-by-day” and would receive support from the national organization. Teachers in Avon Community Schools, which started in-person classes last week, gathered with signs on Monday to peacefully protest the reopening, she said. 

Few districts have everything they need, Dunham said. She listed concerns with reopening in-person classes, including that some buildings don’t have central air or room to allow students to remain socially distant students. But she stopped short of saying all of the state’s more than 300 districts should start the year virtually. 

“We do have some of our locals with maybe three schools who do have resources, who feel comfortable… whereas we have some locals who are not getting administrative backing,” Dunahm said. “We’re saying safety first. Administration and teachers know if they think their school corporation is being safe.”

Indiana’s labor law does not allow for strikes, although it cannot stop them. Historically, teachers in Indiana have more often held protests rather than strikes. In November, thousands of teachers requested time off, using a protest approach similar to a “sick out.” If teachers were to  strike, it would mean teachers refused to work and therefore give up pay and eventually lose their benefits.

Indiana’s largest teachers union, Indiana State Teachers Association, has also called for schools to only reopen if COVID-19 cases are “under control” in the community and protections are in place for students. The union has asked the state to report the number of cases in schools more transparently. 

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