Labor Watch

A Clarifying Moment for Teachers Unions

Late last week, we took a survey of the national debate about reopening schools in the wake of the pandemic coronavirus, focusing on how teachers unions were stalling the reopening of in-person instruction. We noted the Fairfax Education Association (FEA), the National Education Association–affiliated teachers association in Fairfax County, Virginia, had opposed reopening any in-person instruction until a SARS-COV-2 vaccine is available, which may be never.

This made FEA officials mad enough to send Capital Research Center a demand for a correction. Now, because in public advocacy everything you do say without a pre-arranged off-the-record agreement can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion, I helpfully reproduce the demand here in full:

Your recent article, Teachers Unions for Perpetual Lockdown (July 2), penned by Michael Watson a Research Director, misquotes my organization as well as me personally. I have not stated that our members should not return to work. We have stated that until a vaccine or a treatment for COVID-19 is widely available, we should not return to in-person teaching and learning. Teachers will return to work and we have been given the choice to teach virtually or to return to in-person instruction for the coming school year. We continue to ensure that all who choose that virtual option for their health or the health of their families is fully supported in their choice during this global pandemic. We expect a correction to this digital article by COB Monday, July 6, if not sooner.

So yes, in the explicit words of Kimberly Adams, president of the FEA, the union demands that “until a vaccine or a treatment for COVID-19 is widely available, we should not return to in-person teaching.” Clarifying.

“Zero Community Spread”

But what if that isn’t the most extreme position FEA holds in this matter? Carla Okouchi, a FEA vice president, posted this on Facebook:

The operative words are “zero community spread.” What is “community spread”? The CDC defines it as “Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected.”

Now, community spread of influenza, which is observably more dangerous to children than the current pandemic coronavirus (though nobody really knows why) occurs every single year. Okouchi’s position, if applied to flu, would shutter school buildings, condemn students to farcical “distance learning,” and de facto prohibit two-earner households (something I thought our liberal friends liked) every single year.

If “zero community spread” is the definition of “only when it’s safe” (FEA’s Twitter hashtag demanding exclusive distance-learning), then it is never safe, and the schools will be closed forever. And mothers who were told that they could have a professional career and children will disproportionately bear the costs of that demand, even as teachers face COVID risks likely far lower than those faced by grocery workers, bus drivers, and pharmacists.

Teachers and Parents vs. FEA

While FEA makes completely impossible demands before a real reopening and a real return to real instruction, public health officials are more open to opening. In the piece that provoked FEA’s ire, we noted that the not-at-all conservative American Academy of Pediatrics (which has endorsed gun control, Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, and environmentalist policies to combat climate change) “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” CDC Director Robert Redfield at a White House meeting supporting school reopening said, “The greater risk to our society is to have schools closed.”

While the union might be demanding no return to classrooms, many teachers are channeling Gen. Douglas MacArthur and saying, “I shall return.” Fairfax School Board member Melanie Meren (D) reported that as of July 6 at 2 p.m., only a minority of teachers supported the union’s all-online teaching demand, trailing an in-person option 2,997 to 3,584. (Parents supported in-person learning over all-online by about 60 percent to 40 percent in the Democratic stronghold county.)

That Fairfax teachers do not seem to support the FEA’s extremist position is just the latest indication that teachers’ unions do not represent children or the teaching profession, only their own power to extort taxpayers and working parents.

In a place as yet undiscovered, Jimmy Hoffa is still smiling.


Michael Watson

Michael is Research Director for Capital Research Center and serves as the managing editor for InfluenceWatch. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, he previously worked for a…
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