The hypocrisy of public school teachers’ unions fighting the return to in-person learning even as private schools have largely opened was laid bare recently when a Bay Area teachers’ union president was filmed taking his daughter to a private, in-person preschool.
Nationally, the teachers’ unions have been the major force fighting against the return to in-person schooling. They cite their concerns about the health and safety of public school educators, but parents and lawmakers are growing increasingly frustrated with the delayed re-openings and point to data about the declining mental health and emotional well-being of students.
A Gallup survey released this week found that 8 in 10 parents want a return to in-person learning. The most enthusiasm could be seen among Republicans and Independents (94 percent and 80 percent, respectively); parents who live in Northeastern states run largely by Democrats (90 percent); and working parents (82 percent).
Not surprisingly, then, East Bay Area parents were outraged to see that Matt Meyer, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, sends his own daughter to an actual classroom for her education. Meyer has been fighting against the return to in-person schooling on behalf of his teachers’ union members.
The group GurerillaMomz, which advocates for Berkeley Unified School Districts to be re-opened, followed Meyer as he dropped his 2-year-old daughter off at a private preschool and posted a video of the incident to YouTube this week.
“Meet Matt Meyer. White man with dreads and president of the local teachers’ union,” the group wrote in a tweet, which included a link to the video. “He’s been saying it is unsafe for *your kid* to be back at school, all the while dropping his kid off at private school.”
For his part, Meyer says that there was “no public option” for his daughter and that safely operating his daughter’s preschool is not the same as operating a public school district.
“There are major differences in running a small preschool and a 10,000 student public school district in terms of size, facilities, public health guidance and services that legally have to be provided,” he told Fox News. “We all want a safe return to school. The Berkeley Federation of Teachers is excited that Berkeley Unified will be reopening soon with a plan, supported by our members and the district, to get our students back in classrooms starting later this month.”
Meyer also said that the group’s actions were “very inappropriate” and violated his daughter’s privacy. The child’s face was blurred in the video.
The union reached a tentative deal with the school district earlier this month, which would begin phasing preschool and K-2 students back into classroom learning in late March and 3rd through 12th grades students as early as mid-April based on how quickly the district makes vaccines available.
The re-opening plan would come with COVID testing requirements for staff that will be provided at school sites.
Teachers’ unions across the nation have been largely taking the same position as Meyer as the pandemic drags on and children continue to suffer.
Across the Bay in San Francisco, the city has sued the San Francisco Unified School District (UCSF) to re-open, citing an alarming jump in teen suicide rates in the city as schools remain closed. Among other evidence, the lawsuit said that the University of California-San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital “has seen a 66 percent increase in the number of suicidal children in the emergency room and a 75 percent increase in youth who required hospitalization for mental health services.”
“Every place you look — signs of social phobia and isolation all the way up to suicide attempts — screams crisis,” according to the Dr. Jeanne Noble, director of COVID-19 Response for the University of California San Francisco.
The filing also noted that “distance learning has placed an ‘enormous strain’” on mothers, many of whom have left the workforce to care for their children, but particularly minority mothers, who make up a disproportionate share of essential workers and have no choice but to work outside the home. These mothers, the suit stated, are “left scrambling to find supervision and educational support for their children while schools are closed.”
Standing for Freedom Takeaway
It is no secret that teachers’ unions are politically progressive. For example, just this week, a Los Angeles teachers’ union criticized the state’s recently passed re-opening plan as “propagating structural racism” because it would withhold some state funds from schools that were unable to open for at least partial in-person learning by the deadline.
United Teachers Los Angeles said that this would ensure “that money will only go to white and wealthier and healthier school communities that do not have the transmission rates that low-income Black and brown communities do.”
Were schools across the state to remain closed, though, these whiter, wealthier communities would likely have the means, as Meyer does, to explore non-public options.
Millions of California schoolchildren, however, come from families who do not have the resources for these non-public options.
As a group, public school teachers have long been criticized for putting their own interests ahead of the students they teach. Their union representatives fight tooth and nail against any effort to expand school choice for students trapped in poor-performing school districts, for example, and even prior to the pandemic, public school teachers were actually more likely to send their school-aged children to private institutions than non-teacher parents.
It would be interesting to know if this trend has continued — or possibly even increased — during the pandemic as unions fight a return to in-person schooling and families continue to seek out other options for their children’s education as a result. The families, that is, who have the resources to do so.
If the argument is that children must stay enrolled in the public school system for the sake of the rest of the children who can’t afford other options, how does it help to keep public schools closed?
Meyer, with his actions, has unwittingly underscored one of the biggest concerns with the bargaining power held by public school teachers’ unions: Our public school institutions are starting to exist more for the benefit of the unions’ members than for the children they are meant to empower through education.