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Arizona Teachers Union Plans 'Death March' to Protest Fall Semester

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

As states consider reopening public schools this fall, public school teachers across the country seem to be in a quest to outdo each other with protest theatrics. In Arizona, a statewide organization called Arizona Educators United has planned a “Six Days of Action” campaign to protest a return to in-person classes as long as COVID-19 concerns exist.


The demonstrations, which started Wednesday, began with a "motor march" to the state capitol and have since involved contacting governing boards to express their disapproval and participating in a Black Lives Matter march to show their “solidarity.” The crusade will conclude with teachers calling Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s office to read their "obituaries" over the phone as well as a “Ducey’s Death March” where teachers will carry cardboard headstones bearing epitaphs blaming the state for their deaths. Gov. Ducey has directed public schools to open this fall but delayed the start of in-person classes until Aug. 17.

A sample obituary reads:

"Her death was avoidable, but due to the lack of courageous leadership from federal, state, and local officials she was deemed expendable by all entities that were set up to protect its citizens. Throughout this crisis she worked to bring attention to the health and well-being of others but will never see the effects of her work now. As her family mourns, we implore the elected 'leader' of this state to act." 

The organization also provided an example "last lecture" describing a teacher being forced to choose between her family’s health and career.  


“[T]hrough careless behavior and a lack of leadership our state faces continued infection and death,” the template says. “And now we’ve been asked to return to school because children’s social and academic gains between now and February are considered more important than whether their teachers actually live until February. . . Don’t worry about me. I’ve long become accustomed to the notion that as a teacher I’m just a cog in a wheel and that I’m easily replaceable. So, please replace me. I’ve got a life to live.”

Teachers unions in Washington, D.C. employed a similar tactic to express outrage over the possibility of returning to the classroom, lining up “body bags” outside school system offices. Cardboard headstones read messages like “RIP Favorite Teacher,” “Distance Only,” and “Killed in the Line of Duty.”

In Detroit, a group of racial activists protested in-person summer school classes by blocking school buses from leaving the terminal to pick up children. The demonstrators said Detroit schools were exploiting minority children as “guinea pigs” in a “sick experiment to test the state’s ability to open schools on a larger scale.” 


But despite the outrage, medical professionals and scientists are increasingly concluding that children are not virus "super spreaders," challenging arguments that the classroom would be especially dangerous to teachers. Furthermore, data from the CDC has noted that based on available evidence, most children “do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19 than adults.” In fact, statistics from the Center have shown that school-aged children are one of the age groups at least risk of dying of COVID-19: those under 15 years old are 43 times less likely to die of the disease than those aged 25–34.

And in Arizona, overall COVID cases have long been on the decline. Coronavirus inpatients are down 52 percent from their peak. Intensive care units in Arizona hospitals have also remained below capacity since March, with the use of ventilators and intubations on the decline. The total mortality rate has also dropped dramatically. 


Arizona Educators United is a long-time foe of Gov. Ducey. In 2018, they garnered national attention for staging a statewide walkout of 75,000 teachers as part of their #RedforEd campaign. The group’s massive rallies at the state capitol put pressure on the governor and other Republican lawmakers to cough up more funding for education. Gov. Ducey called their antics “political theater,” noting the group had endorsed his Democratic opponent for governor.

It seems AEU’s “Six Days of Action” is just their latest melodramatic stunt. 

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