Schools in many cities remain closed to in-person instruction despite a growing body of opinion from public health experts that there is little danger if proper precautions are taken.
School closings have become a hot political issue as most of the cities where schools remain closed are run by Democrats and the teachers unions — supporting Democrats almost exclusively — continue fighting to keep the schools shuttered.
Republicans believe it could become a potent issue in 2022 with much of the opposition to keeping the schools closed coming from suburban families. They see their child’s future success melting away as kids who rely on remote learning fall further behind those already attending class.
In a floor speech this week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) railed against what he described as Democratic “goalpoast-moving,” pointing to districts that refuse to return to in-person learning until all teachers have been vaccinated.
GOP members of the House and Senate have introduced resolutions to restrict government funds for public schools that have not reopened.
“There could not be a more potent issue out there right now and it fits a perfect need for the Republican Party,” said a GOP Senate aide. “A lot of Republicans lost last year because suburban voters were repelled by Trump. If there’s one thing suburbanites care about right now, it’s putting kids back in school and the growing view is that the Democratic Party is so tied to teachers unions that they’re the ones keeping kids from learning.”
It’s more likely that suburban households have both parents working full-time jobs which becomes problematic when schools aren’t open.
But teachers are pushing back against Republican “scapegoating.”
“The Republicans are using this crisis to scapegoat teachers, who are working all over the country to reopen schools for kids who most need it and to make sure that it’s safe,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.
Still, divisions between mayors and governors pushing to reopen now, and the unions and school districts seeking additional safeguards, have spilled into the public view in Democratic strongholds.
If other school districts are open and able to remain open with a few precautions, it’s hard to see how these unions can make a case against reopening. That’s the argument being made by parents in Chicago who can’t get the teachers to agree to come back for in-person instruction despite the $100 million the school district spent on safety measures.
The teachers unions are insisting on the majority of their members being vaccinated before agreeing to return. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has had enough of the excuses and wants the teachers back in class on Monday. She has threatened a lockout for those teachers who refuse to return. The union has threatened a strike.
“They want to prioritize teachers over every other resident in our city,” Lightfoot said.
Mayor Lightfoot and the city’s public health director took to Twitter to blast the Chicago Teachers Union for demanding that 20,000 vaccination doses be prioritized for teachers, with all other Chicagoans being forced to take a back seat.
“Does that seem fair or equitable? It’s not and I said no,” Lightfoot said. “With variants emerging, we have no time to waste to get the most vulnerable people vaccinated.”
“The problem is, we just don’t have enough vaccine,” Dr. Allison Arwady said. “We get only 5,700 doses a day to stretch across the entire city.”
The optics for Democrats are not good on this issue. The teachers are already seen as a union-first organization with the children a secondary concern. Now they want to steal vaccines from vulnerable seniors and others with health problems?
While it’s still nearly two years before Election Day, I think you’ll see that voters have a long memory when it comes to the selfishness and incomprehensible actions of teacher’s unions.