White House formally declares teachers are essential workers

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    A teacher disinfects desks in a classroom at a public charter school in Provo, Utah, on Thursday, Aug. 20.
    A teacher disinfects desks in a classroom at a public charter school in Provo, Utah, on Thursday, Aug. 20. George Frey/Bloomberg/Getty Images

    The White House has formally declared that teachers are essential workers as part of its effort to encourage schools around the country to reopen for in-person learning.

    The move is just the latest in the administration’s campaign to pressure districts into bringing back students this fall. The essential worker designation provides guidance for educators that is only voluntary; it calls on teachers to return to the classroom even after potential exposure. 

    Some context: Vice President Mike Pence announced the decision to governors on a call earlier this week, a person familiar with the decision said.

    Under Department of Homeland Security guidance issued this week, teachers are now considered “critical infrastructure workers,” and are subject to the same kinds of advisories as other workers who have born that label – such as doctors and law enforcement officers.

    The guidance for essential workers states that they can continue to work even after exposure to a confirmed case of Covid-19, provided they remain asymptomatic. Schools’ contribution to community spread has already been a top concern for districts making the decision to open or close, so pushing teachers to continue working after potential exposure could prove controversial.

    White House officials made the move in part to convey how seriously its believes the schools question should be taken, the person said, but also to try to stabilize the teaching workforce and streamline guidance at a time of confusion about the future of classrooms.

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