Teachers and leaders from Education Minnesota, the statewide teachers union, on Tuesday listed their ongoing concerns about safety and equity for students and educators this academic year.

A handful of teachers gathered for a virtual news conference to give statements about the challenges of starting the year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They encouraged district officials to take the time they need to plan for any in-person instruction and called for more funding to help schools provide personal protective and cleaning equipment to help limit the spread of the virus in schools.

Many Minnesota schools are set to start on Sept. 8 — the traditional day after Labor Day — but some districts have pushed their start dates into mid-September to allow more time to plan.

“Reopening buildings in a politicized pandemic and a national racial reckoning is the most difficult thing any of us in education has ever done,” Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said.

Specht and the teachers who spoke also expressed concern over COVID-19 testing policies in the schools and available accommodations for school staff members trying to limit their exposure because they are at high risk of a serious infection.

Each district is handling accommodation requests differently and many are taking weeks to respond to them, Specht said.

“We expect district administrators to follow the law in regards to these accommodations,” she said. “Our members can rest assured we will use all legal means at our disposal to protect the rights of the most vulnerable educators and their families during the pandemic.”

Maria Higueros-Canny, who teaches English language learners at an elementary school in Brooklyn Park, said she’s concerned about racial disparities that may be exacerbated by the pandemic.

“Our state needs to develop more creative and equitable solutions that provide educational access and meaningful participation and do not risk the lives of our families and employees,” Higueros-Canny said. “Every district has the option to follow a more conservative return-to-school plan if they feel it’s in the best interest of students and staff. We urge them to take it.”