Education Matters: Parents rise up in defense of their children
One positive outcome of the pandemic and school shutdown is the seismic realization by parents and the public that teachers unions do not always represent what’s best for students – despite pithy slogans unions use, like “Students First.”
Many teachers have tried their best to provide instruction remotely for their students this past year. It’s not their fault this miserable excuse for education called distance learning has been a profound failure.
But parents also report that some teachers have been negligent – zooming lessons from a coffee house, bar or the beach, sometimes reducing class hours to less than 10 minutes, or simply not showing up at all.
It’s well past time for teachers, who are being paid their full salaries, to get back to the classroom.
Evidence has shown that attendance in schools that have taken necessary precautions poses little danger of spreading the virus.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said teachers do not need to be vaccinated before schools can safely reopen, as long as safety measures like masks and proper ventilation exist.
The 1,500-member Southern California affiliate of the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement forcefully advising the need to reopen schools for the health of children – and, importantly, made no distinction of grade levels.
Dr. Kenneth Zangwill, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, said in a Los Angeles Times story, “We know how to keep teachers, staff and children safe on school campuses. Hundreds of schools and school districts have been able to do this in other parts of the country.”
The harm of keeping children out of school outweighs the risks of a safely-managed return to in-person learning, the pediatricians said, citing the active increase in suicidal tendencies, obesity, anxiety and depression in teenagers.
According to its website, the CDC reported that the proportion of mental health related visits for children ages 5 to 11 and 12 to 17 increased approximately 24 percent and 31 percent, respectively, in 2020 compared to 2019.
In San Diego County, Rady Children’s Hospital noted similar alarming findings, reporting a significant increase in emergency room visits by youth suffering from emotional and mental health issues.
The San Diego County Office of Education has reported that only about 6 percent of the county’s nearly 503,000 K-12 public school children are receiving in-person full-time instruction, and another 14 percent are learning via a combination in-person/remote hybrid model.
This means that about 80 percent of the county’s public school students – or more than 400,000 children – have been exclusively taught (using the term loosely) for almost a full year through remote learning.
SDCOE posts regular updates on its website [https://covid-19.sdcoe.net/Reopening-Plan/School-Reopening-Dashboard] that details in-person, hybrid and distance learning numbers of the county’s public school students by school district.
Here are the latest numbers as of Jan. 29 for North County school districts:
Del Mar and Rancho Santa Fe appear to have figured out how to get most kids back in the classroom successfully, while allowing opt-outs for those students and families that prefer distance learning.
Once school districts realize that in-person learning is best for students, opening up schools can be done safely, with solid preparation and with the determination to make it happen.
Many private schools seem to have managed just fine. This has created a worsening divide between the privileged and the underserved classes, as many kids attending expensive private schools are getting ahead.
And with so many public schools closed to in-person instruction, other families with discretionary income have elected to pay to move their children from public to private schools.
As less privileged kids fall further behind, the achievement gap, bad before, is certain to get worse.
Parents rise up
To be clear, a distinction must be made between teachers and their union, as many teachers don’t support union tactics.
Nevertheless, the unions seem to be in control and so far are resisting the call to open up schools.
The demand for classroom instruction has been deafening from angry and frustrated parents who are watching their children crumble under distance learning.
Their fury has given rise to the formation of parent organizations both locally and statewide.
Open Schools California – which includes parent groups in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Richmond and other cities – represents the position that it’s time for parents, on behalf of their children, to gain a seat at the negotiating table.
Through their lobbying efforts, the group hopes to pressure state lawmakers to open up schools and fight back against unreasonable union demands.
Locally, the newly formed Parent Association of North County San Diego offers resources for parents to organize and influence school district policy to benefit students.
The leadership team of the Parent Association represents school districts in Carlsbad, Oceanside, Poway, San Dieguito, San Marcos and Vista.
“It is striking to see that the apparent interests of teachers unions are not currently aligned with the best interests of all students,” reads a Parent Association statement.
The tension between the needs of students and the demands of teachers unions reached a boiling point recently in the San Dieguito Union High School District after the school board by a 3-2 vote approved a resolution in December to open up in-person instruction for all students who wished to return to the classroom.
This prompted the San Dieguito Faculty Association, the district’s teachers union, to sue the district – a move that succeeded in forcing the school board to rescind its resolution and cave to union demands.
SDUHSD’s reasonable and long-overdo resolution was challenged by the union, even though teachers with serious health concerns or those who needed to be home to take care of their own small children would have been exempted from returning to schools.
The Parent Association has spoken out against the San Dieguito teachers union lawsuit and has praised the efforts of school board members willing to stand up for students.
Abusing political power
Teachers unions are refuting all hard evidence and abusing their political power to the detriment of children’s health and educational advancement.
David Brooks, in his Jan. 31 New York Times column, said it best: “[T]he educational system is powerfully influenced by organizations that don’t seem to believe in critical thinking…” and unions are “combating science with fear.”
In a Jan. 29 article by The 74, John Bailey, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has studied the effects of the pandemic on schools and kids, said of unions, “This isn’t following the science. This is following the politics.”
An exasperated Gov. Gavin Newsom is clashing with the California Teachers Association over the CTA’s insistence that all teachers must now be vaccinated before returning to the classroom.
“If everybody has to be vaccinated, we might as well just tell people the truth: There will be no in-person instruction in the state of California,” Newsom said in a Jan. 28 meeting with the Association of California School Administrators.
In a Feb. 4 EdSource article, he said, “We have many, many districts that have schools open, and they’ve been able to do it safely.”
No one can dispute the fact that far too many isolated kids are suffering mentally and emotionally, as well as from a lack of learning.
Remote education has been a disaster, and unions must take responsibility for the continued lack of empathy for students and their parents in such dire circumstances.
A wasted year
The objective of teachers unions centers around one goal only – to best represent the interests of teachers.
In some cases, those interests intersect with student interests. But certainly not always.
And definitely not now, when parents and students are desperate for in-person instruction and unions are resisting.
The narrative promoted by unions and their advocates that teachers only want what’s best for kids has been exposed as a sham. What occurred in San Dieguito is a prime example of the extremes unions will go to, to protect teacher rights at the expense of kids.
Unions spend inordinate amounts of money to finance the elections of school board members – teachers’ bosses – who are sympathetic to union causes.
Union-endorsed trustees, beholden to the unions for financing their elections, are an impediment to advancing school openings. Parents are seeing this.
This has been a wasted year for school children, and will continue to be as long as unions control school board policy.
Seeing their children fall to pieces, parents are mobilizing and rising up to give voice to the emotional and educational needs of their kids.
As we approach one full year when the pandemic forced the closure of schools last March, it’s clear that teachers unions do not represent what’s best for children.
The only positive way to view this is to hope that the public will be fooled no longer.
Opinion columnist Marsha Sutton can be reached at email@example.com.
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