CHICAGO: Teachers and support staff at more than 35 school districts across the United States on Monday (Aug 3) staged protests over plans to resume in-class instruction while COVID-19 is surging in many parts of the country.
The protesters, who formed car caravans and attached signs and painted messages on their vehicles, demand schools hold off on August and September school resumptions until scientific data supports such a move.
They want districts to wait until safety protocols such as lower class sizes and virus testing are established, and schools are staffed with an adequate number of counsellors and nurses, according to a website set up for the demonstrations.
On Twitter, the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association showed protesters making fake gravestones that said, "Here lies a third grade student from Green Bay who caught COVID at school" and "RIP Grandma caught COVID helping grand kids with homework."
Deaths in the United States rose for a fourth week in a row to more than 8,500 people in the seven days ended Aug 2, while the number of new cases fell for a second straight week, a Reuters analysis found.
More than 155,000 people have died of COVID-19 related illness in the United States, the most in the world. Cases rose week-over-week in 20 states, including in Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma.
Teachers also are demanding financial help for parents in need, including rent and mortgage assistance, a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, and cash assistance.
Many of these issues are at the centre of a political tussle in Washington, where Democrats in Congress and Trump administration officials held talks on Monday and will resume on Tuesday to hammer out a coronavirus economic relief bill after missing a deadline to extend benefits to tens of millions of jobless Americans.
Education employees in Chicago, Milwaukee and Philadelphia honked their horns in socially distanced car protests. Protesters rallied outside the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce building and in the Hartford, Connecticut, area, about 400 formed a car march that went by Governor Ned Lamont's home.
"I do not want to put my students or myself in harm's way. I do not want to be an experiment," Andrea Parker, an elementary school teacher in Chicago, told reporters before a car protest.
With Democratic candidate Joe Biden ahead of him in opinion polls, President Donald Trump has made school reopenings for classroom instruction part of his November re-election campaign.
"Cases up because of BIG Testing! Much of our Country is doing very well. Open the Schools!" the Republican Trump tweeted on Monday.
While reported case numbers may be linked to more testing, the rise in hospitalisations and deaths have no connection to an increase in testing.
On Sunday, Deborah Birx, the coordinator of Trump's coronavirus task force, said the United States is in a new phase of the outbreak with infections in rural areas as well as cities.