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COVID-19 vaccinations and mitigation turned the corner on school reopening: AFT President

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Randi Weingarten, AFT President, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss school reopenings in the fall.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

- Well, the country's teachers have a very simple message. Schools must reopen again in the fall. So let's chat about this. We're joined now by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teacher's union in the country. Randi, always great to have you with us. I want to ask about this school reopening. You say that schools must reopen. Are we at a point vaccination wise where teachers feel comfortable, where everyone is saying at least within the system, the teaching system, that this is a safe move to make?

RANDI WEINGARTEN: Yes. I mean, it's not as if it's risk free, and we still have to make sure that people who are high risk have some accommodations. But the vaccines have been a big game changer. And 89%, according to our polling, 89% of our members have either have been fully vaxed or in the process or want it.

And you've seen a big shift not only in the reduction of fear and the increase of trust, but in all the schools that I've been in since I've been fully vaxed, you-- you've seen tremendous joy and confidence that schools can be safe and welcoming places. We have to do the same for parents as we've now helped to do for educators. And I believe that we can do that for the fall.

I think that the news this week from the CDC that you can take your mask off if you've been fully vaccinated is another indication of the effectiveness of vaccines. But the other really big news this week that vaccines are now-- have now been found effective and safe for kids 12 to 15 are going to hasten the time that all kids will be able to take off their masks.

So we're-- the trajectory is going in the right direction. And we know that schools-- in-school learning is really important for kids. And we've said and you've heard me say over and over again that safety was the vehicle to have more in-person learning not the obstacle. And the combination of the layered mitigation, the testing, and vaccines has really turned the corner on school reopening.

- Randi, there are some teacher unions in some states that are mandating vaccinations that are saying we must have certain mitigation measures happen before we come back into the classroom. What kinds of measures are you looking for, are you asking legislators for?

RANDI WEINGARTEN: Well, what we have said is that you needed to have the-- so-- so I don't know anyone who is saying that vaccinations are a prerequisite for either educators or for kids. And we have said that vaccinations should-- that we have-- we are trying mightily to convince our members to have the vaccination because we think that it's-- they will be much safer because of it. But I don't know-- I don't know any locals or any teacher unions who are saying that they must be a prerequisite.

Having said that, what we are saying is that we're going to do our damndest to convince people and particularly parents and-- and make sure that there's access for families and for their kids to have vaccines in either schools or communities or places that they trust. It's the trust that's really important.

The other two safety measures that are important are layered mitigation though-- we've got to look at what the CDC was saying about masks but good ventilation, sanitation, washing your hands, having some distance. We've made the suggestion in the speech I gave yesterday that we should actually align class size with the three-foot rule.

And because there's no vaccines that are available for young kids right now, you're still going to have masks in elementary schools. And we'll have to figure out what all of this means in terms of masks in junior and senior high schools.

There's-- there's a byplay or an intersection between the kind of, do you disclose who's had vaccines versus not? When you have a mask policy, you never get to that question. But all of these things, we're going to ask the CDC and the White House and the Secretary of Education to try to answer all of these questions, obviously, before the fall so that we have guardrails and protocols for all of this.

- Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, thanks so much for joining us today.