Analysis: Amid growing parental backlash, teacher unions continue to try to rewrite the story of reopening schools


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Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears most Wednesdays; see the complete archives.

Give American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten a platform and she will deliver this oft-repeated claim about closed school campuses and the pandemic:

  • March 19, 2021: “We have been trying to reopen schools since last April. “
  • November 3, 2021: “When you see people saying that teachers have closed schools, don’t let that lie stand. We, AFT, made a plan in April 2020 and worked very hard to reopen schools safely. “

Some of these statements are correct. AFT drew up a plan in April 2020. The rest, however, is easily refuted by examining what AFT and its affiliates have actually been doing during the nearly a year and a half of widespread school closures due to COVID. -19.

I detail the actions of teachers’ unions at the national, state and local levels in a new report for the Defense of Freedom Institute. It’s titled “Teachers Union Resistance to School Reopening: A Review of America’s Largest School Districts.” The districts studied included New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade County, Clark County (Nevada), Houston and Fairfax County (Virginia).

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The report examines two questions: whether teachers’ unions in the seven school systems have actually supported and worked to reopen schools since the initial closures in March 2020; and whether their recommendations for reopening policies were vital necessities for the health and well-being of students and employees or simply a wishlist of desirable funding policies and outcomes unrelated to the virus.

The initial plan to reopen AFT from April 2020 was accompanied in the same month by a letter to the United States House of Representatives signed by Weingarten and the presidents of the other three major civil servant unions: National Education. Association, Service Employees International Union, and American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. Together, they noted that “COVID-19 has exacerbated the deep inequalities in our society and underscored the need for additional public investment to fight this injustice.” The unions had a long list of requirements that went far beyond personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer:

  • Smaller classes (AFT recommended 12 to 15 students per class)
  • Additional staff with mental health expertise to provide trauma and sensitivity training to all staff, students and parents
  • A limit on student testing
  • A suspension of teacher performance reviews
  • At least $ 1,000 billion in state stabilization funds
  • At least $ 200 billion in public education stabilization funds
  • Paid sick leave for all workers

“Now is not the time to worry about deficits,” AFT said. “And the federal government should be prepared to raise taxes. “

At the state level, the California Teachers Association issued a notice to bargain to its locals just weeks after the schools closed. “Now is the time to secure [contract] linguistic improvements that we have wanted for some time, ”he suggested.

The CTA also lobbied the state legislature and governor for multiple protections in the 2020 state budget. The union succeeded in securing a ban on teacher layoffs, a substantial reduction in teaching minutes. education requirements and the elimination of public accountability data collections for 2020, including those on academics, absenteeism, graduation and suspension rates, and college readiness.

In the larger school districts, resistance to reopening varied in intensity, but by no means was the union “trying to reopen the schools.”

The New York Teachers’ Federation has threatened to strike against the mayor’s plan to reopen.

United Teachers Los Angeles grabbed the headlines when it demanded Medicare for All, the passage of the union-backed schools and local communities funding act, a wealth tax, a millionaire tax, police funding and a moratorium on charter schools as part of its reopening program.

The Chicago Teachers Union was forced to delete a tweet that read, “The push to reopen schools is rooted in sexism, racism and misogyny. “

The United Teachers of Dade have joined a lawsuit against the state of Florida to prevent what it called the “reckless and dangerous reopening of schools.” He dropped the lawsuit two months after the schools reopened.

The Clark County Independent Education Association opposed the plan to reopen the district in July 2020, saying it would “support every educator and parent who chooses not to participate in the reopening.”

The Houston Teachers’ Federation and other unions released their own reopening plan, which included funding schools for enrollment instead of average daily attendance, a “massive investment in public schools,” the suspension of High-stakes tests and teacher evaluations, maximum class size of 15 students and a risk premium for on-call staff.

The Fairfax Education Association published a petition demanding that in-person school not resume until a vaccine is widely available and there has been 14 days of zero community spread.

Weingarten isn’t the only one apparently trying to rewrite the past. Last August, NEA President Becky Pringle said in an interview: “The schools that remained open were school districts that worked directly with educators and with their unions to make the best decisions to keep students. and all members of that population in good health. . “

But this is simply not the case.

Researchers at Boston College and the University of North Texas examined the effect of union power on decisions to reopen schools. They concluded that “larger school districts where unions are arguably stronger on average are much more likely to accommodate union preferences to keep in-person schooling closed and rely on teaching models and fully remote learning (online).

This month’s election results suggest that unions misjudged the reaction of many parents of students, who have come to see teacher unions as one of the obstacles to reopening their classrooms. Sensitive to their public image, unions have continued to respond with the message that they have genuinely fought to reopen schools – and are the main reasons schools have safely reopened for the 2021-22 school year.

With the mid-terms on the horizon, will their argument hold up with the voting public?


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