Schools Might Not Reopen for ‘Maybe Another Year,’ Says N.J. Teachers Union
Another day, another set of parents who discovered at the last minute that the planned reopening of their kids’ long-shuttered elementary schools was being thwarted by a politically powerful teachers union.
This time it was in the wealthy, New York City-adjacent suburb of Montclair, New Jersey, where Superintendent Jonathan Ponds announced late Friday “with deep regret” that the schools, closed for the past 319 days, wouldn’t even be reopening on a hybrid basis (half-in, half-remote), because negotiations with the Montclair Education Association (MEA) broke down. “I realize how unsettling this news is,” Ponds added.
The union seeks Plexiglass barriers, millions of dollars in ventilation upgrades, and for teachers to be vaccinated (New Jersey, unlike New York, does not as yet prioritize teachers for vaccines). MEA President Petal Robertson said in a statement, “It is our duty to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for our staff and a sound educational plan for our students.”
“The truth is, for kids K-12, one of the safest places they can be from our perspective is to remain in school,” then-director of the Centers for Disease Control Robert Redfield said in November.
COVID-19 infection rates at elementary schools in particular have been, compared to the country as a whole, microscopic—0.2 percent for teachers, 0.1 percent for students, according to economist Emily Oster’s database of 5,000-plus K-12 schools. The positive rate in New York City’s program of random school testing—currently standing at 0.52 percent from more than 360,000 tests since October—has consistently been around one-tenth of the overall community positivity rate.
And, observed Redfield, “The infections that we’ve identified in schools when they’ve been evaluated were not acquired in schools. They were actually acquired in the community and in the household….The data strongly supports that K-12 schools—as well as institutes of higher learning—really are not where we’re having our challenges.”
Unions may utilize the rhetoric of safety, but the determinative factor in school closures is their own power. As Reason Foundation Director of School Choice Corey DeAngelis has documented, the biggest correlating factor in all-remote learning is not the level of community infection, nor the quality of ventilation systems, but rather the comparative political strength of the relevant teachers union.
Union muscle is especially swole in Montclair. From The New York Times:
The newly elected mayor, Sean Spiller, is the No. 2 official at the statewide teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association. The president of the local teachers’ labor group, Petal Robertson, is competing for a leadership job at the association. And one of the governor’s top political strategists, Brendan Gill—an Essex County commissioner who is also the township’s Democratic chairman—lives there, as does the state’s new education commissioner, Angelica Allen-McMillan.
Mayor Spiller’s comment to the Montclair Local is a model of brow-furrowing concern, communicating empathy while accomplishing bupkis.
“Our educators, students, and parents…deserve high praise for going above and beyond to continue the work of teaching and learning,” Spiller wrote to the paper. “It is from that starting point that we need all parties working together….It is important that all educational stakeholders collaborate in order to ensure we have an appropriate and clearly articulated safe plan for any return to in-person instruction.”
Such impotent bureaucratic gobbledygook is hardly limited to union-hack Jersey mayors. Here’s the president of the United States on Monday, when asked, in light of the Chicago walkout, whether he believes teachers “should return to schools now”:
Joe Biden is asked about the Chicago Teacher’s Union voting to defy the school district’s re-opening plan:
“We need new ventilation systems in the schools, we need testing for people coming in and out of the classes, we need testing for teachers as well as students” pic.twitter.com/EC8Mp8WF6m
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) January 25, 2021
Biden’s stammering here is in direct proportion to the fundamental untenability of his—and teachers unions’—position. Headlines from Dec. 8 had it that the then-president elect was pledging to have K-12 schools reopen within his first 100 days in office, but too
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