21 August 2020
President Donald Trump's administration declared this week that teachers in the United States are "critical infrastructure workers."
The declaration means that school officials could send teachers back to the classroom even if they were in contact with people infected with COVID-19.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said for the first time that teachers should be on its list of critical infrastructure workers. The list also includes healthcare workers, police officers and people working in meat processing centers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that such workers are not required to quarantine for 14 days following COVID-19 exposure. It said they can keep working if they show no sign of the disease and take safety measures.
Among the first areas to name teachers as critical infrastructure workers was Greene County in the state of Tennessee. Greene County School System officials approved the move on July 13.
"It essentially means if we are exposed and we know we might potentially be positive, we still have to come to school and we might at that point be carriers and spreaders," said Hillary Buckner. She teaches Spanish at the high-school in Afton, Tennessee.
Only kindergarten and prekindergarten students currently attend class face-to-face in Greene County. But school officials could expand in-person classes to every one of the area's 7,500 students, Buckner said.
In the state of Georgia, Forsyth County Schools also recognized teachers as critical infrastructure workers. Spokesperson Jennifer Caracciolo said that means they could be told to return to classrooms. She noted that the 50,000-student school district has yet to rule on the issue and plans to decide on a case-by-case basis.
A spokesperson for Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said his administration is studying the new Homeland Security directive. But if it is accepted, the directive could influence other school districts to follow Forsyth County's example.
Craig Harper is director of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators. He said the directive "starkly contradicts the newest Georgia Department of Public Health guidance intended to protect student and educator health and curb spread of the virus."
Lily Eskelsen Garcia heads the National Education Association. She said the directive was an attempt "to give President Trump and those governors who are disregarding the advice and guidance from public health experts an excuse to force educators into unsafe schools."
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten added "the Trump administration will always try to change the rules to threaten, bully and coerce."
"If the president really saw us as essential, he'd act like it," Weingarten said. "Teachers are and always have been essential workers — but not essential enough, it seems, for the Trump administration to commit the resources necessary to keep them safe in the classroom."
The Associated Press reports that the coronavirus is spreading in Georgia, as a percentage of population, faster than any other state. Tennessee has the seventh-fastest spread.
A few schools that reopened for in-person classes in both states have already closed after infections were reported among teachers and students. It is unclear whether the virus was spread at the schools, however.
I'm Jonathan Evans.
Jeff Amy reported this story for the Associated Press. Hai Do adapted the story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
infrastructure - n. the basic things that are needed for a country, area to function
quarantine - v. to keep a person away from others to prevent a disease from spreading
exposure - n. the condition of being affected by something
positive - adj. showing the presence of a particular germ
kindergarten - n. a school or class for very young children
contradict - v. to not agree with something
excuse - n. a reason that you give to explain a mistake or bad behavior
bully - v. to threaten or insult (smaller or weaker person)
essential - adj. extremely important and necessary