A top national union boss suggested that widespread vaccinations may not be a good enough metric to allow teachers to return to work, due to potential future concerns.
Let’s take a brief moment to recall that many millions of American workers have been showing up to work at essential businesses throughout the entire pandemic, clocking in day after day to perform their duties. Many of these people do not work in places that have been broadly declared by health experts as low-risk environments for COVID outbreaks, as schools have.
Nevertheless, teachers’ unions are insistent that the ongoing academic and mental health disaster of closed schools must stretch far into the future. In Fairfax County, Virginia, the union’s position is illustratively outrageous — via a withering Washington Post op/ed:
The Fairfax County school system demanded and then received high-priority placement for teachers and administrators to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Those vaccines began a week ago, and, according to the Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand, 5,000 teachers have received their first dose and an additional 22,000 teachers are registered to receive their first dose soon. And yet, having jumped to the front of the vaccine line, Brabrand, the FCPS School Board and the teachers union are delaying opening schools. That raises the question of why they have the priority placement to begin with, and whether these vaccinations should be immediately halted so that high-risk individuals or public servants who have been working outside of their homes for the entirety of the year have access.
There is simply no common-sense explanation for vaccinating teachers ahead of other high-risk groups if they refuse to return to full-time in-person learning. The simple truth is that the Fairfax school system wants the benefits of heroism without taking a heroic action. At the Jan. 21 school board meeting, Fairfax Education Association President Kimberly Adams said she received her first vaccine dose on Jan. 14, two days ahead of the scheduled start for school personnel. She has said that her union would not support a return to full-time education even in the fall. The fall. As in September 2021. Nine months after she was vaccinated. The union says that all students must also be vaccinated. Never mind that no current vaccine has been approved for use on children under the age of 14. Adams also wants 14 days of zero community spread. Neither of these goals is likely to occur this calendar year. The excuses pile up faster than the half-inch of snow that typically shuts down school operations.
The union demanded that teachers jump the line on vaccines, ahead of other Virginians in much higher-risk categories. This demand was granted. Yet despite this questionable decision, the union has still refused to commit to reopening schools in the fall, seven months from now. One of their excuses is that even if all the teachers are immunized, the students won’t be. As the essay alludes to, that’s because (a) kids, especially younger ones, aren’t very susceptible to the virus, and (2) there is no approved COVID vaccine in existence for minors under the age of 14. My biggest quibble with the op/ed is its framing of vaccinated teachers simply showing up for work in low-risk environments as “a heroic action.” It’s the absolute bare minimum that should be expected of them, even without considering the devastating toll virtual learning is taking on students. But union bosses are digging in their heels. Chicago:
Members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to continue to teach remotely—even though district officials want teachers back in classrooms beginning this week. Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Janice Jackson described any refusal to come to work on Monday as an “illegal strike,” according to The Washington Post. The union reported that roughly 86 percent of its 25,000 members participated in the vote, and 71 percent of teachers wanted to keep teaching remotely. “CPS did everything possible to divide us by instilling fear through threats of retaliation, but you still chose unity, solidarity and to collectively act as one,” said the union in a statement. The union has previously claimed that the push to reopen schools is rooted in “sexism and racism,” even though the inadequacies of virtual education are disproportionately harming young people of color and forcing hundreds of thousands of women to exit the work force. And when the district decided to hire 2,000 new employees to assist students in the classroom if their teachers opt to continue with distance learning, the union objected to that plan, too.
In Las Vegas, schools are rushing to reopen following a tragic surge in suicides among isolated, depressed children. “The spate of student suicides in and around Las Vegas has pushed the Clark County district, the nation’s fifth largest, toward bringing students back as quickly as possible,” the New York Times reports.
“The risk of student suicides has quietly stirred many district leaders, leading some, like the state superintendent in Arizona, to cite that fear in public pleas to help mitigate the virus’s spread.” The rise in adolescent suicides and other mental health crises have not yet been definitively linked to school closures and other pandemic-related lockdowns through codified data, but common sense dictates that these are obviously and undeniably significant contributing factors. This has been clear for months, with experts continuing to weigh in. Data from Europe and the United States have also consistently shown that schools are not major COVID spreaders, further calling into question long-term closure and remote learning policies.
Our data on almost 200,000 kids in 47 states from the last two weeks of September revealed an infection rate of 0.13 percent among students and 0.24 percent among staff. That’s about 1.3 infections over two weeks in a school of 1,000 kids, or 2.2 infections over two weeks in a group of 1,000 staff. Even in high-risk areas of the country, the student rates were well under half a percent…School-based data from other sources show similarly low rates. Texas reported 1,490 cases among students for the week ending on September 27, with 1,080,317 students estimated at school—a rate of about 0.14 percent. The staff rate was lower, about 0.10 percent. These numbers are not zero, which for some people means the numbers are not good enough. But zero was never a realistic expectation. We know that children can get COVID-19, even if they do tend to have less serious cases. Even if there were no spread in schools, we’d see some cases, because students and teachers can contract the disease off campus. But the numbers are small—smaller than what many had forecasted. Predictions about school openings hurting the broader community seem to have been overblown as well.