Union Teachers Ignore CDC, Parents' Pleas in Refusal to Return to Classrooms


Pressure is building on school systems around the U.S. to reopen classrooms to students who have been forced to learn online for nearly a year, pitting politicians and parents against teachers unions.

In Chicago, the rancor is so great that teachers are on the brink of striking.

In San Francisco, city officials sued their own school district in an effort to get kids back in classrooms.

In Cincinnati, some students returned to in-person instruction on Tuesday after a judge threw out a teachers union lawsuit.

While some maintain that online classes are the safest option, some parents, with backing from politicians and administrators, have said that their children’s education is suffering from sitting at home in front of their computers and that the isolation is harming them emotionally.

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In Nashua, New Hampshire, the school board voted to stick with remote learning for most students.

Alicia Houston, whose sons are in sixth and 10th grade, said her biggest frustration is “not being able to help my children effectively,” even though she has quit her job to attempt just that.

“Watching them become a little bit darker,” she said last week.

“Watching them fall apart. The emotional and mental health piece is one of the most important pieces. A trauma like this is not something they’re necessarily going to recover from right away.”

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Some have argued, too, that reopening schools would enable parents to go back to work instead of staying home with their children.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a recent study that there is little evidence of the coronavirus spreading at schools.

But many teachers are unwilling to return without first getting vaccinated.

Kathryn Person, a high school teacher in Chicago, wants to continue teaching remotely so she doesn’t risk the health of her 91-year-old grandmother and an aunt battling lung cancer. Person said she trusts the union will fight school officials if they try to punish teachers who won’t go back.

“If they try to retaliate, when that happens we will go on strike,” she said.

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In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has said he will not force schools to reopen but has proposed a $2 billion plan that has met with criticism from superintendents, unions and lawmakers.

It would give schools extra funding for COVID-19 testing and other safety measures if they resume in-person classes. Schools that reopen sooner would get more money.

Newsom told educators that he is willing to negotiate but that certain demands, including the call by unions to have all teachers vaccinated before school starts, are unrealistic.

“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,” he said.

“The virus is in charge right now and it does not own a calendar,” the 300,000-member California Teachers Association said in a letter. “We cannot just pick an artificial calendar date and expect to flip a switch on reopening every school for in-person instruction.”

President Joe Biden’s administration and Republican senators have dueling proposals for stimulus packages that would distribute billions of dollars to help schools get children back into classrooms.

About 10,000 Chicago teachers and staff and 62,000 students in kindergarten through eighth grade were supposed to return to school on Monday for the first time since last March. But the Chicago school system extended remote learning for two more days and called for a break in negotiations with the teachers union.

In several states, lawmakers are advancing legislation to require more in-person learning.

An Iowa law, signed on Friday by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, requires districts to offer full-time in-class instruction to parents who request it.

In South Carolina, a bipartisan push to get students back in class five days a week is underway.

“After this pandemic is over, I hope to never do another Zoom call,” House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, a Democrat, said. “I hate it. I can’t stand them. I can’t imagine being in third or fourth grade and having to stare at a screen in order to learn.”

In Utah, the Salt Lake City school system announced plans to resume in-person learning for at least two days per week under pressure from lawmakers who threatened to cut funding.

Officials in Washington state are pushing for teachers to get vaccinated when it’s their turn but also insisting they get back to classrooms immediately, shot or not.

“The bottom line is a vaccine is a tremendous safety net, but it is never the thing that is going to create the perfect scenario,” Chris Reykdal, superintendent of public instruction, said.

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