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American Federation Of Teachers: Teachers Union ‘Barrier’ To Students Being ‘Put In Danger’ By Republicans

February 21, 2021

The American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers union, and its leader, Randi Weingarten, set out Sunday to “debunk” the myth that teachers unions are standing in the way of in-person learning in much of the country. While Weingarten claimed more “space” and “more teachers” are necessary for classrooms to reopen fully, the AFT’s social media swiped back at a Wall Street Journal op-ed blaming unions for being anti-science.

The AFT tweeted Sunday that “Teachers, staff, and the unions behind them are not a barrier to schools reopening,” in contrast to the WSJ column that noted, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that schools are not hotbeds of coronavirus transmission and that in-person learning can be accomplished with basic safety measures designed to halt the virus’ spread.

Instead, the AFT insisted, they are a barrier between students at “Republican talking points.”

“Teachers, staff, and the unions behind them are not a barrier to schools reopening. We are a barrier to staff and students being put in danger for Republican talking points,” they said.

Education analyst Corey DeAngelis pointed out, in response, that there is a strong correlation between whether a school district is open for in-person learning and whether that same district has a strong teachers union.

Education Week recently compiled data on the reopening decisions made by 563 school districts in the U.S. The data indicate a stark relationship between school district reopening plans and whether the school district is located in a state that requires union membership as a condition of employment as a teacher. Right now, school districts in states that require union membership are 25 percentage points less likely to plan to reopen with full-time in-person instruction available than school districts in right-to-work states. About 38 percent of school districts in right-to-work states have decided to offer full-time in-person instruction, whereas only around 13 percent of school districts in states that require union membership are offering the same.

No less than the CDC, however, admitted, just last week that “science” is not the sole deciding factor in whether children are able to return to classrooms, and that its official guidance is the result not just of scientific inquiry, but of “engagement” with “many education and public-health partners.”

“We have conducted an in-depth review of the available science and evidence base to guide our recommendations, and we have also engaged with many education and public-health partners, to hear firsthand from parents and teachers, directly, about their experiences and concerns,” Biden administration CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said. Among those stakeholders, a parents’ group discovered, was a Biden administration education strategist, Donna Harris-Aikens, “who came to DOE last month after 14 years as a Senior Policy Director at the NEA,” the nation’s largest teachers union.

AFT president Randi Weingarten tried to “debunk” further the idea that teachers unions were dictating classroom coronavirus policies, Fox News noted Sunday, but her requirements seemed to run parallel to union demands of fewer students, more teachers, and more money for education “infrastructure.”

“I do want to debunk this myth that teacher unions, at least our union, doesn’t want to reopen schools,” Weingarten said on “Meet the Press” Sunday. “Teachers know that in-person education is really important and we would have said that pre-pandemic. We knew that remote education is not a good substitute.”

“What does full school opening mean? If you do six-feet of physical distancing, you’re essentially saying in a school you’re going to have about 50 or 60% of people in there at any one time. Not 100%,” Weingarten said when asked whether she would commit to helping schools reopen for in-person learning this year.

“The issue really becomes, do we have 30% more space, do we have 30% more teachers,” she said. “What I think we need to do, we need to actually get as much in-person as possible right now. Have the mitigation strategies, have a real great summer semester to get kids’ mojo back in a voluntary way, and then really be planning for next year.”

This has largely translated into a plea for more federal aid money — a plea that the Biden administration is addressing in the available draft of its $1.8 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. The problem, though, as the Daily Wire has reported, is that much of the money already set aside for schools in the three other Congressional COVID-19 relief bills have yet to be spent, and the money earmarked for education in the forthcoming Biden bill is designed to be allocated over the course of several years, with 95% of the money held in trust for future — not present — expenses.

“President Biden’s COVID-19 relief package would put $128 billion toward helping K-12 public schools deal with the coronavirus pandemic, but the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that just $6 billion would flow to schools in 2021,” Fox News reported. “The CBO estimates that the number would increase to $32 billion in 2022 and 2023, respectively. The rest of the money would be paid out through 2028, according to a cost estimate released Monday.”

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