Michigan Educators and Students: Join the Fight to Close Schools and Stop the Pandemic!

The Michigan Educators Rank-and-File Safety Committee (MERFSC) held a joint meeting with the University of Michigan International Youth and Students for Social Equality and the Chicago Educators Rank-and-File Safety Committee on January 12. Following the meeting, which was attended by educators, parents, and students from Michigan and Illinois, MERFSC adopted the following statement.

The Michigan Educators Rank-and-File Safety Committee is calling on teachers, students, and parents across the state to demand an immediate halt to all in-person learning to protect the health and safety of educators, our students, and communities.

As in other states, the spread of the Omicron variant in Michigan is completely out of control. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, another 251 state residents died Thursday and Friday and another 37,114 were infected. Hospitals are filling to capacity, with 84% of intensive care beds occupied. A federal emergency medical team has been dispatched to Henry Ford Hospital in Wyandotte to help understaffed and exhausted medical workers.

Teachers protest with signs calling for increased COVID-19 testing, outside PS 64 Earth School on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021, in New York City. (AP Photo/Brittany Newman)

The so-called “mild” variant has put at least 140 children in hospital with confirmed or suspected infections.

Tragically, we lost Omeka Bradford, a 17-year-old student from Kalamazoo Central High School, on January 11 after a nearly two-month battle with COVID. The committee sends its deepest condolences to the family and friends of Omeka for your terrible loss. We pledge to redouble our efforts to mobilize educators, parents and students to prevent these unnecessary deaths and protect other children from the long-term disabilities associated with this horrific virus.

“We haven’t seen the worst, I’m afraid,” Michigan Chief Medical Officer Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian said last week, noting that research predicted “we’ll peak by the end of January, maybe -be at the beginning of February”. Even if it did, it wouldn’t be the end of the pandemic. “There will be variations after Omicron,” Bagdasarian said. “The more the virus spreads, the more mistakes and mutations it makes, and we don’t know what those mutations will look like and how that will affect the behavior of the virus.”

Data from Michigan, the United States and around the world show that schools are one of the main vectors of airborne transmission of this deadly disease. Last week, there were 203 ongoing outbreaks in Michigan schools, compared to 162 in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

The number of infections in Michigan is nearly double what it was in November 2020, when schools were closed. It’s madness to keep them open now! But that’s exactly what Governor Whitmer and state and local officials of the two big companies are doing.

Kalamazoo and most other districts in the state kept children in overcrowded and poorly ventilated classrooms. On January 18, schools in Lansing and Grand Rapids will fully reopen, along with most schools in Ann Arbor.

Some 50,000 Detroit students will resume in-person classes as early as Jan. 24, after the state’s largest district was forced to walk away due to a 40% test positivity rate and a illness affecting one in five school employees. Flint schools are also set to reopen on January 24.

Despite requests from thousands of students and faculty, the University of Michigan is continuing with in-person classes, while students at Michigan State University and Eastern Michigan University remain online for another one or two weeks.

The decision to open schools is not driven by science, but by the economic interests of powerful corporations, including the automotive industry. This was spelled out on the state government’s own website, which said: “Without schools, our economy cannot function at full capacity. Parents rely on schools to provide safe places for children to learn and grow so they can go to work. But neither the schools nor the factories – where thousands of workers are sick – are “safe”.

The Biden administration has abandoned any pretense of fighting to stop the pandemic. Instead, he fully embraced “herd immunity,” the anti-science theory that the pandemic will simply die out after it has no more people to infect. The result of such a horrific experiment, however, would be the infection of the entire population, millions of additional deaths worldwide, and the potential for lifelong debilitations for an entire generation of children.

As the political establishment implements a policy of mass infection, across the country and internationally, educators, parents and students are demanding the closure of schools. In Chicago, 25,000 teachers led a four-day labor action to demand virtual learning in the nation’s third-largest district. Their struggle was sabotaged by the Chicago Teachers Union, which agreed to a deal with Mayor Lori Lightfoot that would only close individual schools if 30-40% of staff or students were sick!

The Michigan Educators Rank-and-File Safety Committee insists that life must come before profit! We denounce the death accord signed by CTU and encourage Chicago educators to join our sister committee, the Chicago Educators Rank-and-File Safety Committee.

No sooner had CTU signed that miserable deal than thousands of Chicago students came out demanding distance learning only. They joined a nationwide wave of student walkouts to protect lives, including in New York, Boston, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles, California; Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and Okemos, Michigan. Underscoring the global nature of this struggle, three quarters of all French teachers led a national strike for COVID safety last week.

This is the real voice of workers and young people, which the media, corporate politicians and corrupt unions will not be able to silence. But we need fighting organizations to unite educators and all sections of workers who want to temporarily close all schools and non-essential businesses, as part of a public health policy to eliminate COVID-19 a once and for all.

Our committee asks:

  1. Close all non-essential schools and businesses until transmission of the virus is stopped and committees of grassroots educators, working with principle scientists and public health experts, determine that schools are sufficiently safe to reopen. During temporary shutdowns – which scientists say would last no longer than two or three months – full income protection must be provided to all workers and small business owners.
  2. Pour billions into distance learning. Ensure free, high-quality computers and internet connections and resources for families so that children have a quiet, comfortable place to study and provide for the nutritional and medical needs of each child.
  3. Hire thousands of public health workers to perform universal testing, contact tracing, quarantine and education on vaccines and the use of masks to protect against airborne transmissions.
  4. The resources necessary for these vital measures are available. Cancel billions of dollars in tax cuts for automakers, healthcare giants and other big corporations, and raise taxes sharply on billionaires and megatrillionaires whose fortunes have exploded during the pandemic.

It is necessary that educators, students, parents and all workers take matters into their own hands and fight to protect life, not profit. If you agree with that, we invite you to join the Michigan Educators Rank-and-File Safety Committee today.

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