School closures have affected over 55 million K–12 students in the U.S. since March as the nation deals with the coronavirus pandemic. Although numerous private schools and day care centers have adjusted to the pandemic and reopened, many public school districts and teachers unions are fighting to remain closed in the name of safety. In fact, 85 percent of the country’s 20 largest public school districts have already announced that they will not be reopening schools for any in-person instruction as the school year begins.
Some have noted these reopening decisions often appear to be driven by politics rather than public health. Unfortunately, many teachers groups are contributing to this appearance. In their report on safely reopening schools, for example, the Los Angeles’ teachers union went beyond detailing the safety needs of teachers and students, also calling for politicians to enact a wealth tax, Medicare for All, and a ban on charter schools.
Similarly, 10 teachers unions across the country joined a coalition that included the Democratic Socialists of America to “Demand Safe Schools.” But rather than focus on student and teacher safety, they demanded a ban on new charter schools and voucher programs as well as the cancellation of rents and mortgages.
When a reporter asked Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser if trends in the city’s COVID-19 cases justified the all-virtual start to the school year, Bowser responded, “No. I wouldn’t say the attention to the health metrics is the only thing that’s leading to our decision today” and that “clearly we want to work with our workforce.”