Teachers' unions spent an incredible amount of energy lobbying to keep schools closed throughout the 2020-2021 school year. All rhetoric was devoted to making sure everyone knew teachers did not want to return to an unsafe environment in the midst of a pandemic. As a result, blue districts and blue states shut down schools, some of which are still closed as the school year ends.
This has had a major impact on the future of education in the United States. Many parents moved their children to private schools because public schools were shut down. Even more parents just began homeschooling. Public schools may be at their weakest, politically, in decades, and the teachers unions are to blame.
The science was pretty clear and consistent throughout the pandemic. The youngest students really can't carry the virus load necessary to be contagious, if they get it at all. Hard surface transmission was virtually nonexistent. There were so many scary scenarios that were pushed, but few of them were actually backed by any existing science then or now. Yet, they fought as hard as possible to keep schools closed.
What's worse, some unions used the opportunity to make demands unrelated to COVID-19. They would go back with increased funding, raises, racial justice curricula, and so many other things that were unnecessary and even impossible to grant them in order to kids back in schools. The real racial injustice, by the way, is all the black students who had to suffer while rich white kids could go to their expensive private schools – largely because those rich white parents fight so hard against school choice, vouchers, etc.
Parents who wanted to return to work couldn't because they had to stay home with their kids. They couldn't afford childcare.
Well, this appears to have led to some just terrible polling for the Biden administration, which appeared poised to declare schools should open before backing off at the beginning of his term, and the unions, who were caught influencing the CDC's talking points.
Politico yesterday reported that, suddenly, the Biden administration and the unions were hard at work on a “Get Back To School!” campaign.
The Biden administration and teachers unions are mounting a campaign to return American children to classrooms five days a week.
“Nothing should stand in the way of fully reopening our public schools this fall and keeping them open,” said Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers president, in a speech last week. But she also emphasized that the full return won't be as easy as reopening the school gates. Educators will have to address students' emotional needs on top of their academic setbacks.
— The prolonged isolation kids across the nation endured during the pandemic has exacerbated their need for social and emotional support. From April through October, the number of children ages 5 to 11 who were sent to a hospital emergency room due to a mental health crisis spiked by 24 percent compared to 2019, the CDC reported. For 12- to 17-year-olds, that was a 31 percent jump.
— Teachers are also exhausted from trying to engage their students through a screen. And almost half of principals said pandemic working conditions were “accelerating their plans to leave the profession,” according to a poll from the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
The concerns they are now discussing are concerns those of us calling for schools to open have shouted about from the beginning. It's incredibly tough to teach and keep students engaged through a screen. Social isolation has a negative impact on students whose primary social and emotional development come through interactions with others at school. There is a massive underreporting of child abuse because teachers don't see their students every day, and a lot of that reporting comes from teachers who recognize the signs.
Randi Weingarten, by the way, has been the face of the keep schools closed movement as head of one of the largest teachers unions in the country. She has routinely been fighting to “keep teachers safe” while ignoring the needs of students, the people schools are meant to serve. But your tax dollars in many places around the country have been used to continue to pay these teachers while they fight having to do their jobs.
Thankfully, it looks like the 2021-2022 school year will be back to normal, or close to it. The unions realize they've shot their own agenda in the foot, and it's difficult to undo the damage that's been done to them. Private schools will see a surge in enrollment, homeschooling will become more widespread, and they will continue to bleed public support.
However, they will also fight back. Expect more pushes to attempt to curtail homeschooling and place regulatory burdens on private schools, and expect louder rhetoric for funding “needed” in the wake of so many students (and the money that goes to school based on number of students) disappears. They will get louder as they continue to bleed out.