U.S. teachers have been added to an advisory list of essential workers as they face pressure from the White House to return to classrooms even as their unions challenge decisions to return to in-person instruction amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Classroom aides and superintendents were also added to the updated list of critical essential workers that includes doctors, nurses and IT workers, in a memo on Tuesday from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The list was intended to help state, local and tribal officials "protect their workers and communities as they continue to reopen in a phased approach," said the memo from the department's cybersecurity and infrastructure agency. The memo said the move was also needed "to ensure continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security."
The list is advisory and "is not, nor should it be considered, a federal directive or standard," the memo added. President Donald Trump has spent the summer pushing hard for schools across the nation to start the academic year with in-person learning, even as cases of the novel coronavirus have surged in some of the country's most-populous areas, prompting districts to start fall classes online or offer at least some classes virtually.
Educators in Florida and Iowa have filed lawsuits challenging plans to reopen schools in those states, while educators across the country have held protests and threatened to strike if they are forced to go back into classrooms this autumn. Several schools that began classes in Georgia and Nebraska have had to cancel in-person instruction over the past week due to outbreaks.