A North Carolina teachers' union is calling for the implementation of universal health care and welfare benefits for illegal immigrants in order to reopen schools in the fall.
Just days after the Durham Association of Educators (DAE) issued a statement railing against the school district's reopening plan, Durham Public Schools voted unanimously to hold all classes virtually for at least the first nine weeks of the school year. Included in the DAE statement was a call to adopt a variety of far-left policy goals before holding in-person classes, including Medicare for All and "direct income support regardless of immigration status."
"There are concrete policies that have permitted other countries to flatten the curve and return to public life: moratoriums on rent and mortgage, universal health care, direct income support regardless of immigration status," the statement reads. "We must fight together, collectively, for changes that will permit our communities to thrive during this pandemic and beyond."
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The union's statement also calls for a full shutdown of the state, saying "until that is done, remote learning should remain the default."
The district did not respond to a request for comment.
The 2020-2021 school year has become a hot-button issue in recent weeks amid an aggressive push from President Donald Trump to reopen campuses. On July 8, he threatened to cut federal funding for schools that fail to reopen in the fall, sparking pushback from teachers' unions at the local, state, and national levels.
Some health experts have emphasized the need for students to attend in-person classes moving forward. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a set of reopening guidelines in June that warned parents and policymakers of the "considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality" associated with "lengthy time away from school." In addition, a JAMA Pediatrics review of 18 studies found that most children who contract coronavirus "generally required supportive care only, and typically had a good prognosis and recovered within one to two weeks."
In its statement, the DAE acknowledged that "all children are suffering without school—some without enough food to eat, others without sufficiently supportive adult and peer relationships, many without internet access, and others with too much mindless screen time." The union, however, claimed that the Trump administration's reopening push was aimed at "protecting wealth and big business."
North Carolina GOP spokesman Tim Wigginton criticized the union's stance. He noted that the state's top public health official, Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen, said that she plans to send her daughters back to school for in-person instruction.
"Once again, teachers' unions are distorting the facts to accomplish their agenda that puts special interests first and kids last," Wigginton said at a July 16 briefing. "We need to do what's best for our children, and according to the pediatricians, that's letting them return to school."
The DAE is a direct affiliate of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), and former DAE president Bryan Proffitt was elected NCAE vice president in April. Proffitt has decried the school-choice and charter-school movements, as well as online education.
"The privatizers are hungry right now. They're going to push online education, they're going to push charters, they're going to push [the narrative] we didn't need teachers in the first place," Proffitt said in April. "Our side has to be willing to fight back just as hard."
Neither DAE nor NCAE responded to requests for comment.
Durham Public Schools planned to hold in-person classes for elementary, middle, and "exceptional" high school students before the union spoke out. It cited "the need for childcare for our youngest and most vulnerable students" as "one of the reasons for choosing this approach." The district reversed course on Thursday, however, opting for remote classes only. The decision will last for a minimum of nine weeks, meaning district leaders may permit in-person classes starting just weeks before the November election.
The DAE is not the first local union to tie school reopenings to far-left policies. A Los Angeles teachers' union included a call to defund police in its list of school reopening requirements.