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Why aren’t U.S. Teachers Considered Essential Workers?

Teachers in England are considered essential workers because they are providing childcare in closed schools for the children of other essential workers.
As in the U.S., schools in the UK closed indefinitely in March. But, the children of essential workers and pupils who are considered vulnerable because they are supported by social services, or have safeguarding and welfare needs, for example, are be able to attend school.

Britain’s Health secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC’s Today program that the children of those categorized as key workers would probably account for less than 20 per cent of those attending school.

“The way that we’ve structured this decision is to keep as many people in those front-line jobs that are critical in keeping the country running and at the same time bend down the curve of the virus,” he said.

Top of the list of key workers are those in the health and social care sectors, including doctors, nurses, midwives, social workers and care workers, as well as support staff and people working in producing and distributing medical supplies.

Also, special education and early childhood teachers are essential. In the UK students are able to attend school if one parent is a key worker, although they still encouraged parents to keep children at home if possible.

Here in the U.S. daycare workers are also considered workers in front-line industries. They are there to care for children so that other essential workers such as doctors and nurses can go to work and care for the sick.

Why aren’t teachers considered essential workers in the U.S? According to the Economic Policy Institute there are 12 “essential” industries that employ more than 55 million workers. A majority of essential workers are employed in health care (30%), food and agriculture (20%), and the industrial, commercial, residential facilities and services industry (12%).

Essential workers by industry, 2019

All essential workers 55,217,845 100%
Food and agriculture 11,398,233 20.6%
Emergency services 1,849,630 3.3%
Transportation, warehouse, and delivery 3,972,089 7.2%
Industrial, commercial, residential facilities 6,806,407 12.3%
Health care 16,679,875 30.2%
Government and community-based services 4,590,070 8.3%
Communications and IT 3,189,140 5.8%
Financial sector 3,070,404 5.6%
Energy sector 1,327,760 2.4%
Water and wastewater management 107,846 0.2%
Chemical sector 271,160 0.5%
Critical manufacturing 1,955,233 3.5%

Surely, a teacher would fall in the category of “community-based services,” “healthcare” and possibly “food and agriculture.” Millions of children depend on the food provided at school because they don’t have access to a healthy diet at home. Also, many students from low-income backgrounds do not have access to a computer, internet and cannot participate in on-line learning. Therefore teachers and schools could fall under the “communications and IT sector as well.

In a letter written by a Michigan educator, Sidney L. Faucette, he explains why: “Teachers are front-line, essential workers”

Why are teachers essential?

1. Teachers bring academic expertise, patience, caring and kindness to children that only teachers can deliver.

2. Parents and families are over-stressed with the impact of COVID-19, and they do not need the additional teacher stress role.

3. The economy cannot open fully until parents have trusted childcare.

Teachers must be valued as professionals, and their pay must be dramatically improved to keep them in the classroom. COVID-19 is driving teachers out of the profession en masse.

Our leaders and legislators have used teachers and public education as a political scapegoat for too many years. Stop the rhetoric, and value teachers now!

The time is now to classify teachers as front-line, essential workers and to pay them their real value. You cannot afford not to in these times of comeback.

However, many of the nation’s 3.5 million teachers disagree with this opinion and have found themselves under siege as pressure from the White House, pediatricians and some parents to get back to physical classrooms intensifies.

On Friday, the teachers’ union in Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest district, demanded full-time remote learning when the academic year begins on Aug. 18, and called President Trump’s push to reopen schools part of a “dangerous, anti-science agenda that puts the lives of our members, our students and our families at risk.”

Teachers say crucial questions about how schools will stay clean, keep students physically distanced and prevent further spread of the virus have not been answered. And they feel that their own lives, and those of the family members they come home to, are at stake.

Why should teachers return to the classroom when they are still getting paid even as the country’s largest districts shut down?