WASHINGTON – Of course the Chicago Teachers Union blamed “sexism, racism and misogyny” for the pressure to open the nation’s third-largest public school system. The CTU could have added a fourth grievance: anti-Puerto Rican vacationism. On the same day that a CTU board member tweeted that it’s unsafe for teachers to return to the classroom, she posted poolside photos on Instagram of her grinning self, 2,000 miles from Chicago’s winter winds.
Teachers’ unions justify their aggressions as “for the children” but always serve only their members. Abundant data – from public and private U.S. schools, many of which have remained open, and from schools worldwide – refutes the proposition that children, or teachers, are seriously endangered in schools that have taken, as in Chicago, precautions including mask wearing, social distancing and increased air ventilation.
Americans believe K-12 education is so important that laws almost everywhere require children from about age 5 to 17 to attend school five days a week, eight months a year. Public school teachers insist they are essential workers. Remote learning during the pandemic has proved that in-person teaching, especially for the lower grades, is essential to learning, which includes socialization. And three U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials, writing in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, say “there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”
But United Teachers Los Angeles, a union adept at ideological opportunism, says: First things first. Among the pre-conditions for its members’ returning to the classroom teaching for which they are being paid, the UTLA wants a moratorium on authorizing charter schools (these are public schools, emancipated from micromanagement under collective bargaining agreements that unions negotiate with school districts), a state wealth tax, defunding the police and Medicare-for-all.
Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute notes that although primary and secondary schools get about half of local government spending – the national average: $14,000 per pupil – today “only about a third of students nationwide are attending school in-person each day.” This is unhealthy. Hess says that “as early as last spring, it was clear that when isolated from their peers, students were increasingly susceptible to anxiety, depression and mental-health emergencies.” In Britain, the Spectator quotes the children’s commissioner, who worries about “hidden harms” – 2-year-olds who “actually have never been in places where there are other kids and they’re scared stiff of speaking to other children and are very withdrawn.” And 16-year-olds who have spent “those two years in bed, in front of a games console or whatever, how do you start to go forward from that?”
Even in normal times, “summer learning loss” is severest among children from less-affluent households, which have a disproportionate number of single parents and fewer options for enriching out-of-school experiences. Since last March, we have had disproportionate year-round learning loss, and some states’ teachers’ unions suggest that normality might be impossible for the 2021-22 school year.
Hess notes that in suburban Fairfax County, Va., which has given teachers priority access to vaccinations, the teachers’ union already opposes a five-day school week next autumn and says that schools should not fully reopen until the county’s 150,000 students are vaccinated. Because COVID-19 largely spares the young, no vaccine has been approved for youths under age 16.
When a union challenged the Broward County, Fla., school district’s decision that most teachers must return to classrooms, the district, Hess reports, documented “a raft of instances of remote teachers attending destination weddings, participating in political rallies, having cocktails in restaurants, visiting Disney and taking beach vacations.”
Congress has provided $54 billion in COVID-19 assistance for K-12 schools, and now President Joe Biden wants $130 billion more. Surely, this should be conditional on teachers’ returning to classrooms.
San Francisco’s public schools are closed (about 70% of California’s school districts, which serve 6 million pupils, have only remote instruction), so the school board has kept busy recommending the renaming of one-third of the city’s schools. Including Clarendon Elementary School, for this reason (quoted here without correcting the board’s foggy thinking and syntactical muddiness):
“Named for the street its on, whose origins can be traced to a county in South Carolina, one of the 13 Colonies named for Edward Hyde Earl of Claredon – English Politician – Clarendon was impeached by the House of Commons for blatant violations of Habeas Corpus, for having sent prisoners out of England to places like Jersey and holding them there without benefit of trial.”
Increasing students’ exposure to San Francisco educators might subtract from students’ prospects. Public schools elsewhere, however, should be opened.
– George Will’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.