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Tipsheet

Fauci Says Its 'Safe Enough' for Schools to Reopen While Teachers Unions Push for School Closures

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci on Sunday expressed support for children returning to classrooms following the holiday break, putting him at odds with some teachers unions who wish to keep schools closed because of what they see as safety concerns over the rise in coronavirus cases.

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Fauci said during an appearance on ABC's "This Week" with host George Stephanopoulos that, while there is a recent surge in cases due to the highly infectious omicron variant of the coronavirus, he supports reopening schools for in-person learning because students have suffered the negative impacts of attending school online instead of in-person, there are high vaccinations rates among teachers and children five and up are eligible for the vaccine.

"When we've done the balance so many times over the last year about the deleterious effects of keeping children out of in physical presence in the school, and it's very clear that there are some really serious effects about that," Fauci said. "If you look at the safety of children with regard to infection, we have most of the teachers, [an] overwhelming majority of them are vaccinated. We now can vaccinate children from 5 years of age and older."

"I plead with parents to please seriously consider vaccinating your children, wearing masks in the school setting, doing test-to-stay approaches when children get infected," he continued. "I think all those things put together, it's safe enough to get those kids back to school, balanced against the deleterious effects of keeping them out."

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Fauci's comments come as some teachers unions are ramping up the pressure on schools to delay a return to in-person learning amid surging COVID infections caused by omicron.

American Federation of Teachers in Massachusetts president Beth Kontos said in a statement released Friday that "Massachusetts public school students and their families have struggled with the uncertainty and anxiety of the COVID pandemic for two years" and that they "have the right to know that after the holiday break they are returning to safe schools." 

Kontos said, "Given the ever-increasing infection rate and the virulent behavior of the current COVID strain, we know they will not" be returning to safe schools.

The teachers union president also said the "tests provided by the state allow for testing of all teachers and staff, and that should proceed," and added that such tests "should then be followed by a period of remote learning until the current wave of infections abates."

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"This is not the time for finger pointing," Kontos continued. "It is time for Governor Baker and Commission Reilly to accept the fact that we are in the midst of a runaway public health crisis that is beyond our control. They must acknowledge that returning students to school on Monday will inevitably make the crisis much worse."

And Chicago Teachers Union members indicated last week that the organization may strike if their demands for negative COVID tests for all students as a prerequisite to return to school after the holiday break or a two-week remote learning period are not met.

More than 90 percent of the union's members voted for a "remote-work action" for the first week after winter break if Chicago Public Schools "doesn't call for a period of remote instruction after winter break," a Wednesday news release from CTU President Jesse Sharkey revealed.

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