Op-Ed: Teachers Unions Should Consider the Toll Their School Closures Are Taking on Kids' Mental Health


It’s been over a year since many American children have been able to attend in-person learning full-time. And at this point, the teachers unions are playing hardball with reopening classrooms not out of safety concerns but because they just don’t want their members to go back.

Now you have unions like United Teachers Los Angeles, the second-largest teachers union in the country and largest in California, advising its estimated 33,000 educators and health & human services professionals to not post photos on social media from their spring break vacations.

Why, you may ask? Because it could hurt their contract negotiations and it would prove what many of us already know — that your children are being used as political pawns and bargaining chips.

Will we ever get back to “normal?” Will children ever get back to in-person learning five days a week in all 50 states? Maybe the bigger question to ask is what will be the long-term effects on children and society?

States like California have faced some of the biggest challenges with their teachers unions and school boards.

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UTLA recently released a tentative agreement to return to in-person learning. Some of the union’s demands include that staff may be vaccinated during work hours (3 hours) without loss of pay and that staff receive up to three days of paid leave if they become ill as a result of receiving the vaccine, which would not be counted against their own sick leave.

In regard to safety protocols, “[u]nit members required to quarantine by the district shall be paid without having to utilize contractual or statutory leave time” and “15 hours of on-site preparation time in advance of schools physical reopening, to be scheduled outside of the regular workday, at hourly rate of pay.”

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed a $6.6 billion legislative package that provides incentives for schools to resume in-person learning for students in grades K-2 (and for high-needs students in all grades) by April 1. Though this package does not mandate the reopening of schools, schools that do not reopen by April 1 will lose 1 percent of funding allocations for each day they do not comply.

I spoke with an educator who asked to remain nameless who received an email from their union, Desert Sands Teachers Association located in the Coachella Valley in Southern California. The email said all staff would be receiving a one-time, off-schedule $1,000 stipend to recognize the enormous amount of work that all employees are doing in the effort to transition to hybrid learning.

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The funds for this stipend would be coming from CARES Act funds, and DSTA also ensured the educators that the stipend was not a part of the union’s regular bargaining process and that its next negotiations would be begin March 19.

I do wish the teachers unions took into consideration the toll these school closures have taken on children’s mental health, which can range from anxiety and depression to suicide.

The scientists whose research was used by the CDC in regard to reopening schools wrote an Op-Ed for USA Today to clarify that the CDC misunderstood their recommendation and went on to write that “[k]eeping schools closed or even partially closed, based on what we know now is unwarranted, is harming children, and has become a human rights issue.”

A recent FAIR Health study in the Northeast found that private health care claims for intentional self-harm in children from ages 13-18 grew by 333.93 percent over the year when comparing August 2019 to August 2020.

In the Clark County School District, 20 students died by suicide between March 2020 and February 2021 during “distance learning” — more than double the number from 2019.

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Recently, many school board meetings have gone viral, pulling back the curtain to show what educators truly think about parents and reopening campuses.

The entire school board of Oakley Union Elementary School District in Oakley, California, recently resigned after board member Lisa Brizendine was caught on video saying, “It’s really unfortunate [parents] want to pick on us because they want their babysitters back.”

But the real cherry on top was when fellow board member Kim Beede said, “Are we alone? B—-, if you’re gonna call me out, I’m gonna f— you up,” referring to a parent who had posted about her on social media.

During a La Mesa-Spring Valley School Board meeting in San Diego County, Vice President Chardá Bell-Fontenot compared the reopening of schools to slavery and white supremacy.

Regarding reopening, Bell-Fontenot said, “I don’t want to be a part of forcing anybody to do anything they don’t want to do. That’s what slavery is.” An effort is underway to have her recalled.

These unions and school boards need to remember these are real lives they are dealing with. Online learning just doesn’t work for most students. In some cases, students just log into their Zoom class and keep their video off, leaving teachers to wonder if they are actually present.

Children have been deprived of a proper education and seeing and making new friends. They have been robbed of moments like school promotions, youth sports, prom and graduation, events they can never get back.

Some parents had to make the tough financial decision to put their kids into a private school or move out of their locked-down state altogether just so their children can experience some normalcy. And then there are the families that don’t have the luxury of those options.

While school districts in California and throughout the country are now starting to play catch-up on reopening in some capacity, it could be too little too late. The long-term effects of how these school closures will truly impact kids may be detrimental.

After one year, it’s clear that the lockdowns didn’t work and the teachers unions have failed our children.

Did you know that The Western Journal now publishes some content in Spanish as well as English, for international audiences? Click here to read this article on The Western Journal en Español!

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Ashley Yanez is the former Vice Chairwoman for the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of California. She resides in Southern California, enjoys drinking red wine, eating artisan cheese and listening to '90s hip-hop.