New guidance from the Trump administration declares educators "critical infrastructure workers," allowing districts the ability to require teachers to report for work even if they have been exposed to COVID-19

By Nicholas Rice and Sheila Baylis
August 20, 2020 03:18 PM
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New guidance from President Donald Trump’s administration says that educators can be declared "critical infrastructure workers," meaning districts have the ability to require teachers to report for work even if they have been exposed to COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers Guidance report was updated to include teachers as essential workers, listed alongside nurses and police officers.

These groups of workers can be permitted to keep working following COVID-19 exposure "provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states.

High school students wearing PPE in class
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Some states have already moved towards exempting teachers from 14-day quarantine protocols.

A school board in Greene County, Tennessee gave teachers an essential worker designation on July 13, according to a report from the Associated Press.

"It essentially means if we are exposed and we know we might potentially be positive, we still have to come to school and we might at that point be carriers and spreaders,” Hillary Buckner, a Spanish teacher at Chuckey-Doak High School in Afton, told the AP.

Beth Brown, president of the Tennessee Education Association, described the plan as "quite alarming," and told the Tennessee Lookout, "We know, one, this virus is not contained. We know, two, active case rates are such that it is impossible to avoid. The idea that any district would allow a policy that would require anyone exposed to work is a problem."

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee addressed the issue at a press conference Tuesday, saying, "The decision is the district's. If they make that decision, we have given them guidance that they must follow if they choose that critical infrastructure designation."

In Georgia, Atlanta’s Forsyth County has also designated teachers as critical infrastructure workers; spokesperson Jennifer Caracciolo said it's possible exposed teachers may be told to remain in classrooms, but added that the 50,000-student district will decide on a case-by-case basis, according to AP.

South Carolina health officials also describe teachers as critical workers, although it’s unclear if any district there would ask teachers to return before 14 days of quarantine.

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American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten attacked the Trump administration directly, saying, "If the president really saw us as essential, he’d act like it,” according to the AP.

"Teachers are and always have been essential workers — but not essential enough, it seems, for the Trump administration to commit the resources necessary to keep them safe in the classroom."

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