Press Release

AFT Says National Schools Shutdown Inevitable Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

States and Districts Must Act Now to Ensure Supports Are in Place for Kids and Communities

For Release: 

Monday, March 16, 2020


Andrew Crook
o: 202-393-8637 | c: 607-280-6603

WASHINGTON—As COVID-19 spreads, the American Federation of Teachers believes a national school closing is inevitable and is calling on all K-12 schools to plan for it. Schools must ensure supports are in place for vulnerable children—including the children of frontline essential service workers, students who require lifesaving equipment and personnel support in and out of the classroom, and other children whose needs extend beyond the school day.

Thirty-three states have already shuttered schools, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended against gatherings of more than 50 people and the president has said ​to avoid groups of over 10 people. The American Federation of School Administrators has also called for a shutdown.

AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “Closing schools is an agonizing decision, but, with caveats, it’s the inevitable and correct one in the midst of this unprecedented national emergency. The health and safety of the education community is paramount, so given the CDC guidance and the widespread unavailability of test kits, all schools must plan now for a shutdown. We can’t have a situation where there’s a positive test inside a school that would set off widespread panic and lead to a closure—so we have to start preparing.

“But—and this is important—when we close schools, we need to be doubly sure that adequate supports are in place. That means services for medically fragile students and other vulnerable children, an emergency support plan for all first responders and healthcare workers to support child care and other needs, access to appropriate testing and care, feeding programs, and learning packets and specific guidance for online learning. And we also need a federal contingency and economic stimulus plan, which is why Mitch McConnell’s Senate must immediately pass Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the president’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

“For educators and children, the risks outweigh the costs of closure, especially because, thanks to the Trump administration’s incompetence in distributing tests, we don’t know who has and doesn’t have the virus. Modern public schools are centers of community, not just places of instruction. But if schools don’t close, we run the risk of furthering community clusters and putting far too many educators, students and families in harm’s way.” 

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The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.