The newest COVID variant — Omicron, Nu, Xi, Optimus Prime, whatever you want to call it — is younger than my current haircut. We still know so little about it. Nevertheless, out of a supposed abundance of caution, governments around the world are already treating it as the second coming of the Black Death, shutting down borders and placing strict regulations on unvaccinated individuals.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, views the new variant as a matter of grave concern. In a November 28 tweet, Weingarten ominously warned that “Omnicron is coming” and that “the U.S. must act now.”
We’ve heard these prophecies of doom from Weingarten before. In September 2020, she proclaimed that “if community spread is too high … if you don’t have the infrastructure of testing, and if you don’t have the safeguards that prevent the spread of viruses in the school, we believe that you cannot reopen in person.” In reality, Weingarten was and is far more concerned with maintaining her union’s power than the welfare of children.
It’s clear that if Weingarten sees an opportunity to shut schools down again, she’ll take it. If families in blue states — where Weingarten’s union holds the most sway — want to keep their schools open, they’ll have to start fighting back now.
Even before the arrival of the Omicron variant, Weingarten smelled blood in the water. For months, she’s been pressing for American schools to operate in a COVID safety fairy-tale land of sorts, and many districts have cooperated. For example, Weingarten’s home base of New York City, in order to comply with social distancing guidelines, is forcing children to eat their lunches outside (in the cold) for an indefinite period of time. Oakland’s teachers union wants monitors — likely paid union members — to ensure that kids are wearing masks at all times.
These ridiculous policies hurt kids enough on their own, but another round of school shutdowns would be simply cataclysmic. Already, permanent behavioral problems and learning loss have emerged, disrupting academic environments around the country. More shutdowns would doom a generation forever.
The more defeats Weingarten suffers, the more children will have an opportunity to succeed in school.
But Weingarten isn’t interested in you or your children. Her priorities are money and power — nothing more. If she sees some political or material benefit to using the Omicron variant as an excuse to shut schools down again, she will not hesitate to pressure state and municipal governments into doing so. Any person attempting to counteract Weingarten should understand that only political and financial failure will change her mind.
In spite of that, parents are not powerless. The unprecedented success of the parental choice movement over the past two years is proof of that. Any tactic that reduces Weingarten’s leverage is a good one, and many families around the country are now seasoned veterans. If these tactics didn’t work, the Biden administration would never have tried to smear angry parents as domestic terrorists.
Parents around the country took their first forays into politics by running for and winning school board elections. Others lobbied for legislation designed to help kids rather than unions, and others still entirely removed their children from the traditional public school system. The election of Republican Glenn Youngkin — the day after Weingarten campaigned on behalf of Democrat Terry McAuliffe — illustrated that Weingarten has never been weaker politically.
The more defeats Weingarten suffers, the more children will have an opportunity to succeed in school. No matter what COVID-19 variant comes hurtling in our direction, Weingarten and the AFT cannot under any circumstances be allowed to close schools again. American children have already been sacrificed at the altar of the AFT’s political ambitions once. To sacrifice them again would be a moral failing of the highest degree.
Garion Frankel is a graduate student at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service with a concentration in education policy and management. He is a contributor to Young Voices, a guest blogger at reimaginED, and the Chalkboard Review’s breaking news reporter.
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