National Educators United, a teachers’ advocacy group, calls itself an ally of national teachers’ unions such as the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. As school systems across the country struggle with reopening after the Christmas break, this group advocates for going backward, not forward. It is demanding a two-week pause in reopening due to the spread of the Omicron variant.
We know that both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association had a strong influence over CDC guidance on school closures. Mitigation measures were put in place in classrooms to minimize the potential for exposure to the virus and children have consistently been shown to be in the low-risk category for coronavirus. Teachers were given priority when COVID-19 vaccinations became available, going to the front of the line with others considered essential workers. Now National Educators United (NEU) wants to inject itself into decisions being made for students heading back to classes in January. It tweeted out its message on Friday.
An alarming increase of COVID transmission rates nationwide, coupled with a scarcity of covid tests and N-95 masks have placed our communities in immediate danger. National #2weeks pause NOW to #ProtectOurCommunity #Unite4SafeSchools
Sign NOW- https://t.co/6lAYod2WEx pic.twitter.com/5ANAiryqQH
— National Educators United (@NEUsolidarity) December 31, 2021
Yes, the Omicron variant is spreading quickly and is very contagious. However, classrooms have already been retrofitted for protection, including plexiglass desk partitions and air filtration system upgrades. Individual school districts have been managing their schools as it best suits their districts in states that allow it. This isn’t March 2020 and schools aren’t starting from scratch. They’ve learned how to control the spread of the virus in schools as best as can be expected. It is no more possible for schools to be risk-free of the coronavirus than it is for them to be free of flu outbreaks or even the common cold. Contagious viruses are not going away. We have to learn to live with them.
NEU has an online petition which states their demands – frequent Covid-19 testing, vaccination and masking of all eligible students, air purifiers, and smaller class sizes. The “test to stay” strategy isn’t enough, they say. The group posted an open letter to government officials from the president on down to state education officials. It lists its demands for schools and classrooms:
HEPA Air Purifiers in addition to HVAC MERV 13+ filtration
Free N-95, KN95s, or KF94s masks
Reduced class size
Nurses and Mental Health Professionals
Parents are standing up and voicing their opposition to going back to remote learning and keeping kids out of classrooms. Research shows the harmful effects of remote learning for young children and teens. It will take years for them to recover from the intellectual and emotional damage done from more than a year of being denied in-class learning and social interactions with friends and classmates. The teacher unions and their advocates are more interested in their own power grabs and political influence than concerned for what is best for children.
I used to be a public school teacher and this is embarrassing. Our kids have suffered enough. Do your job.
— Tamara Mannelly 😁 (@tmannelly) January 1, 2022
The public school system is being held hostage by teachers and teachers unions.
I can't imagine being a parent and not homeschooling or sending my kids to private schools.
— Timmy Marrinan (@TDMarrinan) January 1, 2022
The largest teachers union in Massachusetts on Friday asked that public schools remain closed Monday so staff members can go in and get tested for COVID-19. That request was rejected by state education officials. The request went to Education Commissioner Jeffery Riley from the Massachusetts Teacher Association’s environmental health and safety committee.
Union President Merrie Najimy said in a statement, “To protect the public health and the safety of our communities, it is urgent to allow districts to use Jan. 3 for administering COVID-19 tests to school staff and analyzing the resulting data.
The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced this week that it had purchased 200,000 COVID-19 rapid tests that would be distributed statewide for faculty and staff testing.
“But without a strategic plan to make the tests available before this weekend, the ability to ensure safe learning environments for our students and staff by Monday morning is greatly reduced,” Najimy said.
In Texas, most schools will resume classes this week.
Most of Texas’ roughly 1,200 school districts will welcome students and staff back within the next week, even as other states debate whether to mandate vaccines for teachers and staff or even return to remote learning.
Superintendent Millard House II of the Houston Independent School District, the state’s largest, announced Wednesday it will maintain its mask mandate and will start to offer free COVID-19 testing for students and staff.
“We are looking forward to adding this layer of protection to our COVID-19 mitigation strategies,” House said in a statement. “We remain committed to keeping our students and staff safe and working toward implementing strategies that can help us continue offering safe and sustainable in-person instruction.”
In Austin, the school district will continue to require masks on campus and will offer testing to students and staff and vaccination clinics for anyone 5 and older.
In an email sent to Austin parents, district administrators said they were keeping schools open because they were confident that mitigation strategies were working and because vaccines are now widely available.
“Our layered protocols work! We have been here before. We can do this. Our kids need the schools to stay open,” Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde wrote in the email.
She added that the Austin ISD would continue social distancing, serving lunches outdoors and using its advanced air filtration system to slow the spread.
These superintendents are right. A multi-layered strategy works well enough to keep kids in classrooms. It is in the best interests of them to be in school instead of being kept at home. It is disruptive to families and the students. Today on a Sunday show, Dr. Scott Gottlieb said it is “imperative” that children are in school. He told CBS’s Margaret Brennan that mitigation measures are in place for schools to stay open. Let’s hope that other states agree and follow Massachusetts and Texas in moving forward, despite the Omicron variant. Don’t let the teacher unions use it as another excuse to close schools and further damage children.