Teachers’ Unions Across the Country Demand School Shutdowns over Low-Risk Omicron

Junior high teacher Angela Andrus attends an Utah Safe Schools Mask-In urging the governor's leadership in school reopening during a rally Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Utah's largest teachers union called Tuesday for schools to delay reopening and start the school year with online classes, citing safety …
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File

Teachers’ unions across the country are demanding that schools shut down in favor of virtual learning amid concerns over the low-risk omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Virtual learning has proven detrimental to the educations, social development, and mental health of children.

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted 73 percent in favor of not returning to school until their demands are met.

“Testing, contact tracing and vaccination efforts by [Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s (D)] administration have been an abject failure,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates told CNN. “Our mayor … is failing our students. We want a plan that looks like, that sounds like safety.”

Even Lightfoot appears to believe the union is overstepping. “We need to keep our kids in schools, which is what we’re going to do in Chicago,” Lightfoot told CNBC on Monday, dismissing the concerns as “saber-rattling by teachers union leadership.”

In a Twitter thread announcing their decision, the CTU said in part, “We fight for your children like they are our own, because when we teach, they are.”

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, who the left has tried to portray as a “champion” for reopening schools but who has also worked tirelessly to keep schools closed, maintains that while “no one wants schools closed” they cannot be opened until all the demands are met and Lightfoot moves “heaven and earth to get it right in Chicago.”

In Massachusetts, both the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) and the state’s AFT chapter are calling for shutdowns.

The MTA has called for a comprehensive testing regime and for the state to be “more flexible with a return to remote learning,” according to NBC 10 Boston. Gov. Charlie Baker (R), however, is “adamantly against” returning to remote learning, saying “the damage that was done to kids should never be repeated, and we have the tools and capabilities to keep people safe.”

Colleen Quinn, spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said, “It is disappointing that once again the MTA is trying to find a way to close schools, which we know is to the extreme detriment of our children.”

Massachusetts AFT President Beth Kontos called for “a period of remote learning until the current wave of infections abates” before chiding Baker calling on him to “accept the fact that we are in the midst of a runaway public health crisis that is beyond our control. They must acknowledge that returning students to school on Monday will inevitably make the crisis much worse.”

Philadelphia unions are also at odds with school official, with FOX 29 describing the teachers’ union as “livid.” The school district has at least 84 schools that will operate virtually for the time being due to positive coronavirus tests. Despite this, Superintendent Dr. William Hite said “I want to make that clear, these are COVID-related staff absences.” About 140 schools remain open in the district.

Union president Jerry Jordan said, “It is disgraceful that the week began in the way it did — the district is wasting precious time and leaving communities scrambling. The District asks for ‘flexibility and understanding.’ That can only go so far.”

Connecticut’s largest teachers’ union, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), is also calling for a return to harmful remote learning.

In an email sent to its members, the CEA confirmed that most local presidents prefer “fully remote” learning, calling the omicron and testing situation “a perfect storm,” according to WWLP.

In a call for a “nine-point plan to keep schools safe,” CEA President Kate Dias said that “Sixty percent of our members report that they don’t have access to N95 or KN95 masks, and more than 70 percent have reported not having access to testing. … It doesn’t feel safe, it doesn’t feel cared for, it doesn’t feel responsible.”

But Dias went on to describe her and her colleagues as “doers,” while the nine-point plan calls for “stringent new protocols”:

More aggressive testing protocols and assessment of symptoms to closely monitor students and teachers before they enter schools;

access to COVID-19 vaccination and free testing at all schools, including weekly pool testing; N95 masks and in-home test kits for students and staff, as well as a requirement that N95 masks be worn by all in school buildings, regardless of vaccination status; continued social distancing and improved ventilation; a prohibition on large group gatherings, combined classes, and dual teaching; and a prohibition on requirements that staff use sick time for quarantines.

A New York City union also wants to return to remote learning, despite new Mayor Eric Adams (D) committing to in-person school, according to PIX11.

A city Department of Education spokesperson said, however, that “all of the data shows that the safest place for children is inside a school and we’re working with our school leaders to ensure they are fully prepared to welcome back students and staff safely in-person on Monday.”

While some officials like Lightfoot, Baker, and Adams appear committed to keeping schools open, other officials are laying the groundwork for school closures and draconian policies that have proven detrimental to children, like masking.

Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced on Twitter that while they are “working together to keep classrooms open,” students and families can “expect … situational virtual learning throughout the semester, especially in the coming weeks.”

Many decried the decision as not being in the interest of children, but rather teachers’ unions. Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), on the other hand, called for the U.S. Congress to retake control of D.C.’s governance, saying, “You are destroying children. Under the Constitution – you answer to Congress. It’s time for Congress to take over DC – open schools, open restaurants & businesses, clean up jails, enforce the laws, & end the crazy.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is seeking to extend the statewide mask mandate for school children.

Murphy lifted the Garden State’s general mask mandate in May but maintained it for schools, daycare centers, and some other settings.

“With the exponential surge in our numbers, it would be the height of irresponsibility to lift these basic public health requirements at this time,” Murphy said. “I will not let that happen.”

Outgoing state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D), however, would not make a determination on the mandate, telling NJ Advance Media, “We’re gonna have to learn how to live with this. Because it’s another year.”

Education advocacy organization Free to Learn tweeted of the school closings that “it’s anti-science and punishes student who have already suffered devastating learning loss over the last nearly two years.”

As Breitbart News reported, more than 3,200 schools announced closures or condemnation to remote learning. The number has since increased to over 3,700 schools.

Breccan F. Thies is a reporter for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @BreccanFThies.

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