U.S. teachers protest reopening schools while coronavirus lurks

epa08327754 US President Donald J. Trump speaks between Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (L) and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue during a press briefing on the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic with members of the Coronavirus Task Force at the White House in Washington, DC, USA, on 27 March 2020. EPA-EFE/Yuri Gripas / POOL

CHICAGO, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Teachers and support staff at more than 35 school districts across the United States on Monday staged protests over plans to resume in-class instruction while COVID-19 is surging in many parts of the country.

* Teachers list demands for safe in-classroom instruction

* Politicians tussle over coronavirus economic relief bill (Adds reported Trump healthcare order for rural areas, teacher’s quote, cases rising in 28 states)

By Brendan O’Brien

The protesters, who formed car caravans and attached signs and painted messages on their vehicles, demand schools hold off until scientific data supports such a move.

They want districts to wait until safety protocols such as lower class sizes and virus testing are established, and schools are staffed with an adequate number of counselors and nurses, according to a website set up for the demonstrations.

On Twitter, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association showed protesters making fake gravestones that said, “Here lies a third grade student from Green Bay who caught COVID at school” and “RIP Grandma caught COVID helping grand kids with homework.”

Coronavirus deaths are rising in 31 states, up from 27 states a week ago, according to a Reuters analysis of the past two weeks compared with the prior two weeks. More than 155,000 people have died of COVID-19 related illness in the United States, the most in the world.

Teachers also are demanding financial help for parents in need, including rent and mortgage assistance, a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, and cash assistance.

Many of these issues are at the center of a political tussle in Washington, where Democrats in Congress and Trump administration officials resumed talks on Monday to hammer out a coronavirus economic relief bill after missing a deadline to extend benefits to tens of millions of jobless Americans.

Education employees in Chicago, Milwaukee and Philadelphia honked their horns in socially distanced car protests. Protesters rallied outside the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce building and in the Hartford, Connecticut, area, about 400 formed a car march that went by Governor Ned Lamont’s home.

“I do not want to put my students or myself in harm’s way. I do not want to be an experiment,” Andrea Parker, an elementary school teacher in Chicago, told reporters before a car protest.

In a Lincoln, Nebraska, protest, a handful of people blocked the SUV of Governor Pete Ricketts as he left a briefing, a video on Twitter showed. “We are asking him to not try to kill children,” one of the protesters said to an officer who asked them to clear the way for the governor’s vehicle.


Trailing Democratic candidate Joe Biden in opinion polls, President Donald Trump has made school reopenings for classroom instruction in August and September part of his November re-election campaign.

“Cases up because of BIG Testing! Much of our Country is doing very well. Open the Schools!” the Republican Trump tweeted on Monday.

While reported case numbers, rising in 28 states according to the Reuters analysis, may be linked to more testing, the rise in hospitalizations and deaths have no connection to an increase in testing.

The United States is in a new phase of the outbreak with infections in rural areas as well as cities, Deborah Birx, the coordinator of Trump’s coronavirus task force, said on Sunday.

Previously hard-hit, densely populated parts of New York and New Jersey reduced the spread of the virus with stiff restrictions on movement and gatherings and healthcare measures. On Monday, however, faced with more new cases linked to indoor events, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy reduced indoor limits to 25 people per room from 100.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would determine later this week based on the infection rate whether to reopen schools. Cuomo said of states including Florida and Texas now suffering casualties: “It was a mistake to deny the reality that happened in New York.”

On Monday, Trump accused Birx of capitulating to criticism from Democrats that his administration’s response to the pandemic has been ineffective.

“So Crazy Nancy Pelosi said horrible things about Dr. Deborah Birx, going after her because she was too positive on the very good job we are doing on combatting the China Virus, including Vaccines & Therapeutics. In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait & hit us. Pathetic!” Trump tweeted.

House of Representatives Speaker Pelosi said on CNN that Birx “enabled” Trump, who played down the seriousness of the virus in the early stages and pushed for a quick reopening of the economy following weeks of lockdowns.

“I don’t have confidence in anyone who stands there while the President says swallow Lysol and it’s going to cure your virus,” Pelosi said, referring to Trump asking at a briefing in April whether injecting disinfectant into the body could be a treatment, leading manufacturers to warn against doing so.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Gabriella Borter in New York; additional reporting by Lisa Shumaker and Maria Caspani; writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Howard Goller)


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