Chicago schools officials have said they have spent millions of dollars doing so, but the union has countered that those efforts have not been nearly enough to make schools safe.
Asked by one reporter how the president defines his message of “unity,” Biden talked about Americans coming together to solve problems, including reopening schools. He said people know “we have to do something about figuring out how to get children back in school,” and he rejected blaming teachers and their unions.
“If you are anti-union, you can say it is all because of teachers,” said Biden, who has long identified as a friend of labor. “If you want to make a case, though, [that] it is complicated, you say, what do you have to do to make it safe to get kids in schools?”
Although Biden did not express explicit support for the Chicago Teachers Union, the organization thanked him. One tweet from the union read: “Thank you, President Biden. Exactly what educators have been saying, and responses from parents have shown since last March.”
Teachers in many districts around the country have been fighting with officials over what they say are insufficient efforts to make schools safe for in-person learning. Some critics have blamed teachers for refusing to return to schools, pointing to limited data that coronavirus transmission in school buildings so far has not been found to be high.
Biden said school districts needed to make sure classrooms are “safe and secure for the students, for the teachers, and for the help that is in these schools maintaining the facilities.”
“We need ventilation systems in the schools,” he said. “We need testing for people coming in and out of the classes. We need testing for teachers as well as students, and we need the capacity … to know that … the school is safe and secure for everyone.” That includes ensuring that every school is “thoroughly sanitized, from the lavatories to the hallways,” he said.
He also said that he knows of no school district that has “insisted all those pieces be in place,” though he conceded there could be some.
“The teachers I know want to work,” he said. “They just want to work in a safe environment and as safely as we can make it, and we should be able to open up every school, kindergarten through eighth grade, if we administer these [coronavirus] tests.
“And it will have the added advantage of putting millions of people back to work, all those mothers and fathers that are home taking care of their children rather than going to work,” he said.