Citing the pandemic that he has downplayed for months, President Donald Trump on Thursday abruptly announced that it is “not the right time” to hold the Republican National Convention in August in Florida as planned — moments before he repeated his demand that public schools in the Sunshine State and nationwide reopen even as the coronavirus continues to spread across the country.
As Common Dreams reported last week, teachers in Florida, Arizona, and West Virginia have signaled in recent days that they plan to stage an uprising akin to the Red for Ed movement of 2018, demanding that schools remain closed in the fall because the Republican Party is refusing to federally fund safety measures to ensure teachers, students, and staff members don’t contract Covid-19 at school.
Trump’s insistence on sending the nation’s children and educators into harm’s way while admitting a crowded gathering of GOP leaders, delegates, and voters should be canceled was condemned by American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten.
So it’s too dangerous in Florida to hold a @gop Convention, but not too dangerous in Florida to reopen schools? Kids and teachers safety is less important than @gop delegates? Cmon @realDonaldTrump https://t.co/yGYx4FUMMr
— Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) July 23, 2020
“The president’s hypocrisy knows no bounds,” Weingarten said in a statement Thursday. “Today he shut down the GOP National Convention in Florida in one breath, while pushing to reopen schools in the next.”
In his statement, Trump cited the National Education Association (NEA), which acknowledged in June that “online learning has never been an effective replacement for in-person learning and support.”
But NEA President Lily Eskelsen García has also forcefully called for federal funding for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other safety protocols in schools, which the CDC recommended this month and which Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dismissed as “expensive.”
García echoed Weingarten Thursday in a statement that blasted Trump’s misplaced priorities as well as his ongoing disregard for students, teachers, and school staff.
“For months, educators have been begging for tools and resources that will allow us to return to in-person instruction safely while President Trump’s failure of leadership has allowed the pandemic to rage uncontrolled,” Garcia said. “Today he told us it’s too dangerous to hold a political convention but it’s not too dangerous to reopen school buildings.”
The GOP’s convention was set to take place in Jacksonville, Florida, after being moved from North Carolina when state officials objected to the gathering, citing safety concerns.
Florida emerged as a global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this month. Over the past week, the state has seen an average of more than 10,000 new Covid-19 cases per day. More than 5,000 people have died of the disease since the beginning of the pandemic.
The Florida Education Association (FEA) filed a lawsuit this week against the state after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Trump loyalist, issued an emergency order forcing schools to reopen in less than a month.
“No one wants to be back in a classroom and reopen our [schools] more than educators,” FEA President Fedrick Ingram told CNN. “But we want to do it safely. And we don’t want to put people at risk.”
The push to reopen by Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been denounced by education advocates as an attempt to weaken the public education system, driving communities toward school voucher programs which pull money from public schools.
As Garcia noted, in the president’s statement Thursday he “doubled down on his threats to withhold federal funding that is desperately needed to reopen school buildings safely and equitably while pushing vouchers that steal scarce money from public schools when they need it the most.”
The president told the press that if a school remains closed, its funding should “follow the student so the parents and families are in control of their own decisions.”
“Students, parents, educators, schools, communities deserve better,” said Garcia.
Weingarten accused Trump as “sowing seeds of chaos and confusion so he can fulfill his and Betsy DeVos’ dream of privatizing and voucherizing public education.”
“He’s provided no plan and no funding, and has ignored the health experts,” the AFT leader said. “Teachers won’t let him get away with it.”