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If grocery store clerks, UPS workers, bus drivers, police officers, sanitation engineers, oilfield hands and people who work in meat processing plants are essential workers, why aren’t teachers?
As the pandemic invaded one community after another, millions of brave souls went to work every day, often putting their lives at risk, to keep Americans fed, warm and safe. Thousands of doctors, emergency medical teams, nurses and firemen knowingly exposed themselves to sick patients; many became ill themselves. The heroism of these people, confronting a little-understood disease, cannot be overstated.
Now our nation urgently needs our children to go back to school, for the good of our youngsters and working families. But public-school teachers are balking. Instead of working with officials to facilitate reentry, they are requiring exorbitant safety measures that make returning to the classroom all but impossible.
Some are making demands that have nothing to do with health precautions, but rather target Democratic political priorities, like defunding the police.
For instance, United Teachers Los Angeles released a paper decrying “our profoundly racist, intensely unequal society” and stating that “Police violence is a leading cause of death and trauma for Black people… We must shift the astronomical amount of money devoted to policing to education and other essential needs…”
For good measure, the Bernie Sanders-style polemic also calls for “Medicare for All” and insists on a moratorium on charter schools.
Ironically, the union’s paper admits that “Vulnerable students… were disproportionately negatively impacted by the Los Angeles Unified School District’s shift to crisis distance learning.” And yet, it adamantly opposes opening up our schools.
Never mind that, according to the Wall Street Journal, some 22 European countries have reopened their schools, taking increased precautions for older students, mostly without incident.
As the Washington Post reported, “Public health officials and researchers [in Europe and Asia] say they have not detected much coronavirus transmission among students or significant spikes in community spread as a result of schools being in session — at least for students under 12.”
Given the experience elsewhere, objections from our teachers’ unions look politically-driven, yet another great speed bump thrown up by Democrats eager to block President Trump’s reelection. If they keep schools closed, millions cannot go back to work, the economy remains hamstrung and voters will blame the president. Very neat.
What an appalling insight into the priorities of the biggest unions in the country — unions that give tens of millions of dollars each cycle to Democratic candidates who repay them with lavish contracts and absolution from any accountability.
For sure, teachers need to be protected as much as possible; older teachers and those who have health problems must be excused. Others, though, need to get back on the job. Students may suffer irreparable harm from prolonged absence from the classroom, and, yes, the economy will suffer, too. Not because Big Business plutocrats might not get their million-dollar bonuses at year end; rather, because 18 million Americans don’t have jobs and are hurting. In addition, 3.3 million small businesses, 22 percent of the total, shut their doors between February and April — the worst loss of firms in so short a time ever recorded.
As the pandemic has caused gruesome unemployment and the wholesale shuttering of small businesses, minorities and women have been hardest hit.
Many of the industries that have been crushed during the lockdown – restaurants and hotels, for instance – have laid off minimum wage earners who have little to fall back on.
Now that some of those businesses have been allowed to start back up, employers report that one of the biggest impediments to reopening is that potential workers have no childcare. Reopening our schools would change that.
Meanwhile, keeping kids out of school is not healthy. Before this issue became politicized – that is, before President Trump pushed for schools to open – pediatricians and educators were more vocal about the damage being done, and especially to kids from low-income families without access to internet or computers.
Dr. Dimitri Christakis, editor-in-chief of the journal JAMA Pediatrics, cautioned in a May article that experts thought children might lose nine to 12 months of learning if schools reopened in the fall. If later, even more.
There is also evidence that child abuse is on the rise. With teachers not reporting on the welfare of children, such abuse is leading to higher numbers of hospitalizations and even deaths. As NPR reported, “a sex-abuse hotline operated by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network reported that half its calls in March came from minors, for the first time in its history.”
These are serious issues that policymakers must consider as they push back against the intransigence of teachers’ unions who prioritize their own members’ health over the welfare of our children; and over the welfare of the millions of Americans who need to get back to work.
Some would argue that our teachers’ unions do not deserve to wield such power.
Events of the past month have highlighted the challenges of African Americans. Almost never in this conversation do any of the Democratic activists or politicians so publicly concerned about the welfare of African Americans talk about our inner-city schools, which are routinely failing minority children. It is an outrage.
In Baltimore, for instance, a city that spends over $16,000 per student each year, among the highest in the country, a group called Project Baltimore discovered that in one-third of the city’s high schools in 2016, there were zero students proficient in math. Imagine: Zero.
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Every American deserves a shot at success, of becoming self-sufficient, happy and productive adults. Every child deserves a solid foundational education. And all Americans deserve the opportunity to work.
The teachers’ unions’ resistance to reopening our schools is pushing both goals farther away than ever.
Liz Peek is a former partner of Wertheim & Company, a major bracket Wall Street firm . Follow her on Twitter @lizpeek.