WASHINGTON—Teachers at U.S. military schools in Northern Italy are still being told to report physically to class, violating an Italian government ordinance and putting them at grave risk of coronavirus infection as the global pandemic spreads.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Overseas Federation of Teachers President Linda Hogan slammed Department of Defense Education Activity Director Tom Brady in a letter today demanding the agency act urgently to protect the 700 OFT teachers currently working in schools in Italy, Bahrain, Spain and Turkey.
Officials in Italy—one of the areas hit hardest by the virus, where 3,858 people have been infected and 148 have died—have closed schools through mid-March and ordered educators to telework, but OFT teachers at DoDEA schools in the northern part of the country are being forced to physically report to schools under penalty of loss of pay to conduct online instruction for students who have been sent home.
Health officials have warned that close proximity to others furthers the spread of this highly contagious virus, and teachers are sharing closed ventilation systems, cafeterias and bathrooms, placing themselves, their families and the community at severe risk.
Weingarten and Hogan sent an initial letter last week expressing concern and calling for immediate measures to be taken to protect the health and safety of the dedicated educators being needlessly and recklessly placed in harm’s way. To date, however, Brady and his department have failed to respond.
As today’s letter notes, “Incredibly, in DoDEA schools across Northern Italy, one of the areas hit hardest by the virus, teachers must physically travel to classrooms under a penalty of loss of pay—in defiance of both common sense and the Italian government’s order. How is it that schools deemed unsafe for students by the Italian government are safe for teachers? No school district in the United States would do this, so why is DoDEA doing it in Italy?”
Weingarten and Hogan are now calling for DoDEA officials to do the following:
- Direct managers in any countries or areas with outbreaks to close schools and allow teachers to telework safely from home;
- Provide and order prophylactic coronavirus testing for teachers who have continued to report to schools in all areas with outbreaks; and
- Meet with the union to develop a DoDEA schools and staff coronavirus protocol that includes guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. In places the outbreak has not yet reached, this protocol would include good ventilation and hygiene, disinfection procedures and employer-provided education. In places combating outbreaks, it would include closing schools, allowing teleworking and distance learning, and being prepared with a comprehensive continuity of operations plan. It would also include doing the utmost to prevent the spread of the virus into host countries.
“Asking teachers to report to work every day when students are at home is not only ridiculous, it’s also unsafe. It callously disregards the well-being of our educators and puts our teachers in the dangerous position of possibly spreading the virus in their community. As coronavirus infection rates and death tolls continue to rise, governments have a responsibility to look out for people on the frontlines who are taking care of their communities—yet DoDEA has left overseas educators without any guidance or help.”
“We are concerned that DoDEA’s blatant violation of the host country’s ordinances puts everyone—teachers, their families and members of our host communities—at risk. Our OFT teachers work tirelessly every day to deliver the high-quality education our students deserve and their families expect. We owe it to our educators to do everything we can to protect them as they serve our children. We understand our obligation to them, and we stand ready to work with DoDEA officials in that effort as we continue to await a response.”
Amy Ney, OFT biology teacher at Vicenza High School in Vicenza, Italy, said:
"It is shameful that our employers are taking precautions to protect the children we teach, but do not seem to be concerned about protecting us. My colleagues and I are doing everything we can to keep ourselves safe, but it is disheartening when the teachers of our host country are being told to telework and conduct online instruction from home, yet we must put ourselves in harm's way by reporting to school to teach online classes. We have been demoralized enough. We are calling on DoDEA to make immediate changes so we can keep ourselves and our families safe."