As states and municipalities pursue phased reopenings of economic and social life amid the novel coronavirus, workers are headed back to work. But some workers are finding teachers unions to be a perhaps unexpected impediment to resuming something like normalcy.
The burden would likely fall hardest on suburban professional women forced to choose between their careers and supervising children compelled to “learn” through “distance learning,” a euphemism for government school systems’ pathetic substitute for old-fashioned classroom instruction.
Teachers Union Resistance
- In Fairfax County, Virginia, the three teachers “associations” (Virginia has historically forbidden government-worker collective bargaining, though the new unified Democratic administration has voted to change this) recommended that members pressure the school district to adopt a full-time “distance learning” proposal and reject proposals to get kids back into classrooms part- or full-time. The head of the Fairfax Education Association said that “we should not return to in-person teaching and learning” until a vaccine for SARS-COV-2 is available. (Despite the optimism of some medical officials regarding vaccine research, none of the seven identified human coronaviruses is vaccine-preventable yet, meaning the union’s position could amount to “distance learning” forever.)
- The Columbus Education Association in Columbus, Ohio, expressed opposition to a plan for extremely limited part-time classroom learning, demanding that the reopening be collectively bargained.
- In Palm Beach County, Florida, the teachers union demanded full-time “distance learning” in response to a request for input on a reopening plan.
- In Orange County, Florida, the teachers union pressured the school district to shutter summer school, which is planned to reopen in a few weeks.
- In Roanoke County, Virginia, the teachers union opposed proposals for full-time classroom school in that city.
- The Iowa State Education Association condemned that state’s school reopening guidance.
The Merits of In-Person Learning
Defenders of the unions will argue that subjecting children to inferior home-based videoconferencing schooling is necessary to protect them and the public servants who teach them. (Similarly, defenders of police unions, which are notorious enablers of the worst abuses of police power, will argue for contract provisions and state laws that go far beyond any reasonable due process in protecting bad cops at the expense of public safety and order.) Of course, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)—that is, an association of actual doctors concerned with children’s health—has weighed in on the side of parents who want their kids to learn and who want to be able to return to work:
With the above principles in mind, the AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. [Emphasis in the original.] The importance of inperson learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020. Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation. This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality. Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and families.
Read that paragraph carefully: In the judgment of the AAP—again, a large association of doctors who care for children’s health that is not known for ideological political conservatism—the “distance learning” demanded by the teachers unions not only harms children’s learning but also literally threatens their health and welfare.
As for the epidemiological or public health effects, European countries that opened their schools in May and June did not see substantial transmission of coronavirus, either among students or staff. The Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment has asserted that the “current understanding” backed by data is that “children play a minor role in the spread of the novel coronavirus. The virus is mainly spread between adults and from adult family members to children. The spread of COVID-19 among children or from children to adults is less common.”
So, why are the unions pushing for perpetual lockdown? The American Federation of Teachers is remarkably frank: They are (legally) extorting the federal government and parent-taxpayers, demanding $117 billion in federal schools funding on the threat that “school buildings will stay shuttered and America’s families will endure another academic year of at-home learning.”
Somewhere yet undiscovered, Jimmy Hoffa smiles.
CLARIFICATION: After publication, the Fairfax Education Association insisted, “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.”