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VIDEO: Biden Education Secretary on Schools Reopening, Student Support for Essential Workers with Children

June 7, 2021

UFCW Townhall Highlights Biden Push to Reopen Schools, Get Kids Back in Classrooms Safely as COVID Continues — Key to Provide Boost to Parents Working on Frontlines, As Well As Workers Reentering Economy

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the union for 1.3 million essential food and retail workers, hosted a national UFCW townhall with U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to talk to working parents about White House support for Back-to-School efforts as more schools reopen to get children safely back in classrooms. These efforts are a key way President Biden is supporting frontline workers who have been balancing jobs with family throughout the pandemic. Click here to watch townhall.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone: “Essential workers have put their lives on the line to help feed, care for, and serve this country. As working parents, many of these frontline employees confronted the added challenge of balancing work with taking care of their kids as childcare costs soared after most schools and daycare centers shut down.

“As the nation begins to slowly emerge from this pandemic, our essential workers with children have questions about what will come next for their children’s education. President Biden has made getting kids back in classrooms a top priority, and today’s UFCW townhall is giving working parents the opportunity to hear directly from Secretary Cardona on how states are working to reopen schools safely and help working families across the country.”

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona: “When the rest of the country was shutting down because of COVID-19, UFCW essential workers had to walk into what many people were walking away from. You’ve been the frontline workers during the pandemic. Thank you for your courage in keeping us moving as a country. My father had a good paying union job that was our ticket to the middle class.Working with our unions to make sure workers are safe has never been more important than this past year. 

“For so many of our students, schools are more than where they learn how to read and write. It’s a safe and caring community where they eat two warm meals and have access to a nurse and health services. It’s critically important that we provide in-person learning as quickly and as safely as possible. 

“In many communities with frontline workers who couldn’t stay home from work, we saw higher levels of COVID-19 transmission, sickness, and death. In these same communities, we are having a harder time getting students back into classrooms. We need to build confidence that your children are safe. We need to double down on our efforts with the American Rescue Plan to make sure we’re getting them the support that they need.”

BACKGROUND

UFCW has been a leading national voice for frontline workers and spoke out early in the pandemic to highlight the need to support working parents during the COVID-19 pandemic with workplace protections to keep them safe on the job, strengthen paid leave policies, and provide COVID hazard pay as they balance work and family as they have face higher childcare costs paying $8,355 per child on average as many schools and daycare centers closed the past year.

NATIONAL PARENT SURVEY: Today’s UFCW townhall featured a live poll of the union’s essential workers with children tuning in and asked them about the main issues on their mind as they look ahead to most schools fully re-opening in the fall. Top issues for working parents were:

  • Keeping students healthy when going back to school this fall
  • Closing education gaps for children who may have fallen behind academically, providing the support they need to make up for lost educational growth.
  • School preparation for potential COVID resurgence this fall to ensure we keep children in school in a safe, healthy, environment. 
  • Virtual learning flexibility with remote education options for those families and students who want to continue that approach
  • Pandemic trauma student counseling for children experiencing these issues

WORKING PARENTS: UFCW essential workers with children had the opportunity to speak directly with Secretary Cardona, asking questions about the Biden Administration’s support for state and city back-to-school plans for fully re-opening classrooms this fall. 

  • Tanya Sealy, a Kroger grocery worker and mother of 9-year-old autistic son in Norfolk, Virginia:
    • “Up until the pandemic, I worked full time. But when COVID hit, I had to reduce my hours at work to stay home with my son, Christopher, who has Autism and needed help with virtual learning.
    • “My son has an IEP and when the shutdown happened, it was very hard to get him comfortable in his new routine of me being his teacher. Before the pandemic my son had regular speech therapy and other special support for his IEP from the district. Now he is lucky if he gets 15 to 20 minutes of speech therapy every other week.  
    • “My son also learns from being with other students, but that has been very limited since the school year started virtually and now he is only back in the classroom two days a week.  The constant changes to routines for Christopher is very hard.  He needs to be in a clear, stable routine for his autism. I  literally wrote his routine up on the wall in his room. 
    • “What are we doing to ensure that children with autism and similar conditions have the support they need to make up for lost time and also ensure that children with special needs have the additional support they need moving forward?”
  • Jessica Khaled, Tyson meatpacking worker, single mother of 7 kids in Perry, Iowa:
    • “In April 2020 my entire family, including myself, came down with COVID-19, so I know how bad this disease can be. I am also not the only essential worker in my family, two of my sons work in a nursing home. 
    • “My 4-year old will be going to kindergarten this fall. Up until the last few days of school, children were required to mask.  But, with the new CDC guidelines, the school dropped the mask requirement for kids and teachers alike. I still insist my kids wear their masks. 
    • “We know that not everyone will be vaccinated this fall when kids return to school. I am concerned about the safety procedures that will be in place to keep children healthy especially when there are no requirements about masking. What safety measures will be put in place to keep our kids safe this fall?
  • Kelisha Thomas, a Kroger grocery worker and mother of 2 kids ages 8 and 12, in Dayton, Ohio:
    • “My children go to an online school, so their transition during the pandemic has been less disruptive. Both of my kids are very outgoing – my daughter does dance and my son loves the drums. 
    • “I want my son to have the opportunity to go to in-person public school for high school, so he can participate in activities like band. But I pulled my children out of in-person schooling due to the high teacher-to-student ratio and my kids not getting the one-on-one attention they need to learn. 
    • “What will be the commitment to improve in-person schooling by reducing classroom sizes and ensuring that students get the attention they need to thrive in an in-person learning environment?
  • Eduardo Alvarado, King Soopers grocery worker and father of 7 kids in Denver, Colorado:
    • “I have several kids in school and virtual learning has been a real challenge. My 16-year-old daughter, Faith, also works with me at King Soopers and has struggled with virtual learning and the isolation. She misses her friends, sports and just the regular day-to-day social interaction. 
    • “Virtual learning also has been hard because consistent Internet connectivity and a regularly working computer isn’t something that Faith has had. Just the challenge of getting online and logged in can deter kids from getting to virtual school on time. 
    • “What are we going to do to catch our kids up who have fallen behind in virtual learning – both with studies and socialization?”

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UFCW is the largest private sector union in the United States. UFCW International represents 1.3 million professionals and their families in healthcare, grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries. Our members serve our communities in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Learn more about the UFCW at ufcw.org.