By Noelani Kahapea
“Teachers know that kids do best in school and in-person … That’s why the American Federation of Teachers has been working to safely reopen schools since they closed.”
Surprisingly, this statement came from none other than AFT President Randi Weingarten during a recent U.S. Department of Education summit on school reopening – and it has left parents and teachers baffled.
Since schools closed their doors over a year ago, teachers’ unions have set up roadblock after roadblock in an effort to keep them shuttered. Some demands, though inconsistent with countless health authorities’ recommendations, at least have some connection to the pandemic. Others have nothing to do with ensuring student and staff safety and instead represent a political agenda unrelated to the safe reopening of schools.
Though the AFT presents itself as an advocate for the reopening of schools, the organization and its local affiliates have consistently tied school re-openings to such political goals.
At the Department of Education’s summit, Weingarten pointed to the AFT’s own reopening guidance, released in April of 2020, as evidence of its commitment to reopening schools. While the document includes guidance on social distancing and providing personal protective equipment, it also includes a host of unrelated policy proposals, including increasing Medicaid and SNAP benefits, permanently expanding unemployment, raising taxes on the wealthy, and canceling student debt.
The AFT’s national posture has set the example for its local affiliates.
In Illinois, Chicago Teachers Union (an affiliate of the AFT) teachers are refusing to return to the classroom, despite being ordered by the district to do so, unless the CTU’s political agenda is implemented. These demands include rent abatement for parents and the creation of union-led committees that can inspect and shut down schools if they deem conditions unsafe. The CTU even refuses to allow simultaneous instruction, which would permit some students to attend a lesson in person while others attend virtually.
In Los Angeles, another AFT affiliate has refused to allow teachers to return to work until their policy goals – including Medicaid for all, a wealth tax, defunding the police, and a moratorium on charter schools – are realized. The union doesn’t even try to disguise its intentions, defining the pandemic as “an opportunity to create a new normal.”
Several other teachers’ unions (yes – more AFT affiliates) have joined a coalition demanding that policymakers cancel rent and foreclosures, provide unemployment benefits to all, and remove police from schools.
It’s unreasonable to assume that all teachers agree with union efforts to keep schools closed, let alone the political agenda that the union is pushing. But the unions are doing their all to ensure lockstep loyalty. Teachers brave enough to advocate for a safe reopening are vilified.
Union leaders have called the push to reopen schools “rooted in sexism, racism and misogyny,” compared re-openings to the Capitol riots, and described complaints from parents worried about their children’s suicidal thoughts as “an expression of white privilege.” CTU went as far as posting the board of education president’s private address, and it organized educators to protest by teaching outside his home.
Even teachers that support the union’s position on reopening have concerns over its uncompromising posture in the reopening debate.
Unfortunately, over half of teachers are unaware that they have the right to opt out of union membership and the dues payments that support these demands.
The AFT’s controversial political demands in the school re-opening debate demonstrate why the freedom to choose one’s own representation is so important. Teachers should not be forced to give financial support to an organization that is actively working against their beliefs on reopening, politics, or basic professionalism. Now more than ever, teachers deserve to know that they have the freedom to leave their unions. When more teachers understand this, don’t be surprised if they choose to exercise that right.
Originally published by RealClearEducation. Republished with permission.