Trump's demand to reopen schools is 'unconscionable,' teachers union leader says

The head of one of the largest teachers unions in the country warned there could be an exodus of educators from the workforce this fall as a result of President Donald Trump's "unconscionable" demand to fully reopen schools during the pandemic.

Trump threatened on Wednesday to "cut off" funding for schools that do not completely reopen in this coming school year. New York City, which has the largest public school system in the country, announced Wednesday that officials plan a part-time return to school, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo said only "if it is safe to reopen the schools."

Trump has also accused Democrats of not wanting to reopen schools for "political reasons" because they "think it will help them in November."

"If too many of our members believe Donald Trump's hyperbole instead of somebody like Andrew Cuomo's caution about their health and safety, we're going to have a whole lot of people retire early, quit, take a leave," American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told Craig Melvin on TODAY Thursday.

"So at the very same time that kids need these experienced teachers because they're facing three crises, they need people to calm them down, focus on their well-being and their instruction, we're going to see a huge brain drain in the next few weeks. That was unconscionable what (Trump) did for political reasons."

Trump's pressure on state and local officials to fully reopen schools comes as coronavirus cases surge in states across the country, leaving many parents, teachers and students apprehensive about schools reopening without proper safety protocols that could require additional funding to implement.

The AFT, which consists of about 1.7 members, has released its own plan to safely reopen schools. This guidance includes physical distancing, testing, isolating and tracing cases of the coronavirus, investing in recovery and involving unions, parents and community in planning.

A poll of AFT's members found that if schools enforced 6-foot distancing, cleaning and ventilation, and "reasonable accommodation" of people at risk, then 75% of the union's members would be comfortable returning to school, according to Weingarten.

"They agree with Donald Trump that remote learning is not the best," Weingarten said. "They want to see their kids, they know their kids need in-school attention for food insecurity or lessons, and that's why we've actually started working on this and the funding for this way back in April."

White House officials said Wednesday that guidance released earlier this summer by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concerning reopening schools was too restrictive.

Safety procedures for reopening schools are not the same as those for reopening other public venues like bars and restaurants, Weingarten said.

"Frankly, just because Donald Trump wants to take a risk with people who go to bars or beaches, those of us who have spent their life teaching kids are not gonna take a risk with kids or with our members' lives," Weingarten said. "We know what will prevent a virus spread in a school, we've done a lot of research, and frankly the president trying to ignore research and science or trying to pressure the CDC to change that science is not OK with parents or with teachers."