Following an order by Governor Larry Hogan, Maryland public schools are scheduled to reopen for in-person classes by March 1st. While some districts appear to be ready to comply, the teachers’ unions around the state are still pushing back. But it’s becoming a politically tricky situation for them. They still have a list of demands, not all of which have been met. But now even many of the state’s Democratic elected officials are applying pressure to get the kids back into the classrooms. As union leaders are learning, it’s easy to thumb your nose at Republicans, but it gets a lot more complicated when the party your union supports is pushing to get the teachers back to work. (Baltimore Sun)
As many Maryland school districts prepare to return to classrooms for the first time in nearly a year, local teachers unions are staring down a deadline with a decision: How hard should they push back against reopening plans they believe put their health and lives in danger?
Since the summer, the unions have demanded a list of safety and health conditions are met before they return to in-person teaching. Their demands went largely unchallenged until last month when Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, urged school boards and superintendents to open up by March 1 and threatened actions if they didn’t comply.
Teachers were angry at what they called “bullying” in a letter written to the governor. But Hogan’s threats have now given superintendents and school boards a political push to send students back into classrooms, even as coronavirus rates of infection have remained higher than when the school year began.
Many of the teachers’ demands have been met, but not all of them are possible, at least at this time. Also, some districts simply don’t have the money in their budgets to do it all. In addition to wanting all of the teachers vaccinated before returning to the classroom, Maryland’s teachers’ unions want better air filtration systems installed in all of the schools.
Some schools have already put in new filtration systems, but it’s a very expensive undertaking. Also, while improved air filtration certainly can’t hurt, it’s also not a requirement under the CDC guidelines. The vaccination situation is another matter and it’s the same fight we’ve seen playing out in most states. Some states are moving teachers further up the priority list for vaccinations, but until the 1a group is finished, that’s not going to apply to most of them. Also, the CDC clearly stated that the schools can be safely reopened without all of the teachers being vaccinated.
Larry Hogan left this debate up to the local school districts for a while, but his patience has clearly worn thin. In his recent letter, he threatened to revoke teachers’ licenses or stop paychecks for schools that didn’t reopen. That got their attention, and several districts promptly announced that they would be back in class on schedule.
As the Sun points out, the political situation in Maryland has shifted away from the teachers’ unions. Last summer, polling showed that a significant majority of parents were uncomfortable with sending their kids back to school while the virus was lurking. But now, they describe parental anger as “exploding” and they note that lawsuits have been filed against the unions in multiple districts. Parents have seen the effect that remote learning has had on too many students and they want to get them back on track and returned to some sense of social normalcy.
We’ll know if this maneuver has worked in a couple of weeks. It’s really a question of who blinks first. And at least in Maryland, the teachers’ unions appear to be on shaky ground.