Advertisement

Democrats try to avoid school closures, but anger teacher unions

Democrats try to avoid school closures, but anger teacher unions
Advertisement
By The Associated Press
Jan. 12, 2022 | CHICAGO
By The Associated Press Jan. 12, 2022 | 09:22 AM | CHICAGO
When Chicago teachers went on strike last week to protest COVID-19 safety protections in the nation’s third-largest school district, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker pushed for a quick end to the job action and helped secure rapid tests to entice teachers back to work. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the strikers “abandoned their posts” in “an illegal walkout.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki stressed that students should be in school. 

Nearly two years into a pandemic that shows no signs of waning, Democrats are speaking out more forcefully against COVID-19 school closures, recognizing a rising anger among parents worried that their kids are falling behind. But in doing so, Democrats risk angering some teachers unions, whose support helped get Democrats elected.

The political peril for Democrats became clear after their candidate lost the Virginia governor’s race in November to a Republican who focused on education and slammed the prior year’s school closures. Now, they may face real trouble over an issue that directly affects Americans’ lives.

“When you tell a parent that their kid can’t be in school — a lot of times politics doesn’t touch people’s lives, but that’s a massive impact on parents’ lives that pisses them off,” said Brian Stryker, a Democratic pollster based in Chicago. “The Chicago strike may be the moment when Democrats said: ‘Enough. We’re done with all these.’”

That’s left some teachers feeling left out in the cold.

John Coneglio, head of the Columbus, Ohio, Education Association, said their union has called for two weeks of remote learning. Still, none of the Democratic-voting city’s leaders has backed the union.

“I think their silence speaks,” Coneglio said. “We’re hoping our local politicians see this is a citywide problem, and that sticking your head in the sand and saying, ‘It’s on you guys to solve this,’ isn’t fair.”

At the same time, Democrats are cognizant of the concerns of parents such as Megan Bacigalupi, who quit her job at a San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit last year to help her two young children deal with the hassles of remote learning. 

“Overwhelmingly, Democratic parents are quite willing to vote for an independent or a Republican in November,” said Bacigalupi, who just changed her registration from Democrat to unaffiliated and said she’s never voted Republican in her life. “Two years in, it doesn’t feel like we are in a place where our worldview won’t be shaped by COVID policies.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that schools can remain safe when proper protocols are followed, including observing safe distancing, wearing masks and getting vaccinated. The White House announced Wednesday that it would be sending more COVID-19 tests to schools in an effort to keep them open during the omicron surge.

Bacigalupi’s frustrations are shared by a growing number of education-oriented parents who became activists to push back against extended school closures.

“I have been watching the failure of my party happen in real time,” said Keri Rodrigues, president of the National Parents Union and a committee member of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, “and it’s devastating because unfortunately I feel like the Democrats in this country are just not in conversation with parents, families and communities, and have completely ignored us to listen only to the priorities of the unions.”

Republicans are happy to keep dinging Democrats on school closures.

President Joe Biden “promised to get kids back into school and beat COVID — he has failed to do both,” said Emma Vaughn, press secretary of the Republican National Committee.

On Monday, spokesperson Jen Psaki said the White House was trying to “assist” Pritzker and Lightfoot as they worked to resolve the strike.

Democratic politicians seem to be getting the message. In Nevada on Tuesday, the Clark County School District, which includes Las Vegas, announced that its schools would take extra days off over the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, returning to classes the following Wednesday. The state’s Democratic governor, Steve Sisolak, quickly tweeted his reaction.

“I know many parents and families will be disappointed with the Clark County School District’s decision,” Sisolak wrote. “Let me be clear, I am absolutely committed to keeping schools open for in-person learning and keeping our students, educators and staff safe.”



(AP Photo John O'Connor)
ADVERTISEMENT
Advertisement

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Advertisement
ADVERTISEMENT