Kaufman: As public opinion turns against them, will teachers unions help society?

It's a class situation, and left-leaning unions are yet again aiding the rich and hurting the poor.


Attitudes about the closing and reopening of schools have taken a turn. A skeptic could conclude this is due to the presidential election results, but regardless, it’s important to observe.

The nation’s largest public school system, which abruptly shut down in-person learning last month, brought elementary schools students back this week. Down the corridor from New York City, even the left-leaning editorial board of the Washington Post said public schools should get children back into the classroom. Sunday they opined:

“Remote learning has failed to provide anything approaching the quality of education that can be delivered by a teacher in a classroom. Evidence of the failures, particularly for children already at risk, is matched by growing evidence of the relative safety of in-person learning when proper precautions are in place. The combination should spur officials to devise plans to get students back in the classroom.”

Here in Minnesota, the situation is similarly dire.

More than four months ago, Gov. Tim Walz gave schools discretion on how to reopen for the fall term depending on coronavirus spread in their communities. There were equations to help districts decide whether to open with in-person class, distance learning or a hybrid option. Much depended upon viral activity in the surrounding county and the district’s ability to meet certain requirements. That’s all appropriate, since Minneapolis is not Grand Marais, and Worthington is not St. Paul.

Walz has now issued roughly 100 executive orders this year, and considering rising COVID-19 infection rates around the state, it’s hard to say they’ve changed the disease’s trajectory.

As Alpha News reported Wednesday, Minnesota Sen. Michelle Benson recently appealed to the Minnesota Department of Education, asking that students be allowed back in school as soon as possible.

“Distance learning has exacerbated educational disparities and worsened the achievement gap which we have worked so hard to close,” Benson wrote in part.

The Republican from north of the Twin Cities also noted the rise in child abuse and mental illness resulting from social isolation.

Funding, always the top gripe from those allergic to facts who prefer political crusades, is not an issue. As recently as last month, another executive order fleeced more taxpayer money — and flexibility in how to spend it — to allow teachers to count “prep time” toward instructional hours. (Meanwhile, local police budgets are being cut.)

But students are not returning to school in the Gopher State, nor in Washington, D.C., where schools are closed until February. That would mark almost a full year. Just outside the nation’s capital in wealthy Fairfax and Montgomery counties, reopening for primary schools is no earlier than mid-January, while middle and high schoolers are scheduled for the end of January.

Children are falling behind and, though COVID-19 is hopefully a once-in-a-lifetime plague, it could leave this generation behind for a lifetime.

Why no urgency? Why was nothing arranged in summer when teachers had several months paid vacation? There is no political pressure.

My friend in California has a daughter in first grade, who’s been shut out of her classroom since March.

“Fortunately, she’s a Type A firstborn, who loves to learn and is determined to do it, even though it can sometimes be hard to focus,” he told me. “It becomes more difficult when she’s having a tough time, and I have to take time out of my work day to urgently help her. She recently wrote a story for school about how she misses her friends. It nearly had me in tears.”

Everyone from pediatricians to Dr. Anthony Fauci agree all schools must unlock their gates, while protests over their closures are occurring even in the most progressive locales.

Analyses show students learning from home skip school or don’t do their work. Teachers, who don’t see their students in person, cannot tell who is falling behind, especially when students keep their cameras off. School districts across America report the number of students failing classes has nearly tripled — with English language learners, disabled and disadvantaged students suffering most.

Don’t Democrats care? I don’t deny many teachers care — though some I know simply want “more money” —  but what about anti-science teachers unions that shut vulnerable kids out?

As I’ve written many times, it’s a class situation, and left-leaning unions are yet again aiding the rich and hurting the poor. Parents of means can stay home or find resources they need or switch children to a private school; parents of students with the most to lose have the least clout. Substandard distance-learning systems are someone else’s problem.

We now have a vaccine, and it’s the holiday season. This would be a good time for teachers unions to put children and society before their wallets and do what lefties notoriously advise: “follow the science” and Europe’s lead.