The year 2020 has brought enough storylines to create an undercard Dana White would die for. Who would think the impeachment of a reality TV star turned president wouldn’t even qualify for Pay-Per-View, but rather be relegated to the prelims on cable. Record viewers would surely tune in, though, as Prince Harry squares off against the Royal Family, Hollywood takes on Harvey Weinstein, Coronavirus rocks the healthcare world, and Black Lives Matter feuds against violent protesters. But finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, Parents vs. Teachers Unions 2020!
First, let’s look at how the teachers unions have been preparing for the showdown. The National Education Association (NEA) is the largest labor union in the United States, with approximately 3.2 million members. They have the ability to strike, if their demands are not met, as they have previously done over such issues as class size, ratio of school nurses to students, lack of multi-lingual staff, “fair, livable pay,” funding private school vouchers, and more.
This knockout punch was originally mastered in the U.S. by railroad workers in the 1860s, employees who received on average $1 per day to lay explosives on rail lines, a job with no insurance or benefits, and in which 70 percent of all train crews could expect severe injury or death within five years of service. Unions have undoubtedly improved American labor and have the strength to foster their ideals.
The American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teachers union in the U.S., has authored a “Reopening School Buildings Safely” report on the issue. They have stated that striking will be a “last resort,” as their latest survey shows that 76 percent of members say they would prefer to return to in-person learning if safety concerns were met. Furthermore, 86 percent of members say that remote learning is inadequate. Many of their expectations are related directly to the school setting, but some extend to the country at large. So, what are those demands?
• Containment of Virus: decline in new cases and hospitalizations for 14 days, adequate hospital ICU bed capacity, positive test rate of less than 5 percent, and low transmission rate.
• Public Health Infrastructure- surveillance, testing, tracing, and isolation protocols for the infected.
• Physical Concerns: physical distancing of at least six feet on all school properties, including bus stops, consistent hand washing, face coverings for all, routine cleaning and sanitation of all touch surfaces, and upgraded ventilation and building systems.
In the other corner stand the parents of 30 million children entitled to quality education, under the latest educational overhaul signed into law on December 15, 2015, by President Obama, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). It particularly addresses the achievement of disadvantaged groups in four categories: students in poverty, minorities, special education, and those with limited English skills. These demographics have been most adversely affected by restrictions on in-person learning. Arguments of the parents include:
• Universal Expectations of Essential Personnel: many employees, including those in high risk categories, have worked throughout the pandemic at grocery stores, healthcare facilities, restaurants, post offices, pharmacies, gas stations, retail stores, and other venues with similar traffic and distancing concerns.
• Parents’ Jobs: a recent poll showed that 73 percent of parents would make major changes to their professional lives in the event of continued remote learning.
• Discipline and Routine for Youth: some children saw their teachers virtually in the spring, while many others were simply provided assignments. The lack of physical accountability has stunted one of the tenets of maturation, to show up ready and on time. If remote learning needs to be continued, the exact same schedules of in-person learning should be maintained.
• Virtual Learning Settings: many union members have expressed privacy concerns over virtual learning from their homes. If the default backgrounds provided by Zoom and other providers are for some reason uncomfortable, teachers should be allowed to virtually login from their classrooms, similar to other professionals from their offices.
• Mental Health: one of the primary goals of ESSA is to help the disadvantaged. “Social and emotional learning” have become buzzwords in education but are perhaps the hardest to facilitate under the current setup.
• The International Response: by June of this year, 20 other countries had brought students back to school. Some never even closed, such as Sweden and Taiwan.
• Student Safety: how can parents be assured teachers and staff have complied all summer with the necessary guidelines to protect their kids upon a return.
Both contestants, parents and teachers unions, have valid points. As the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 167,000 Americans have tragically died this year, likely from COVID-19, we all must acknowledge public safety. However, will what represents 0.05 percent of the country’s population continue to outweigh the development of 100 percent of America’s youth?
While everyone feels for the missed iconic moments of adolescence: proms, homecoming games, clubs, honor roll, and other yearbook memories, it will ultimately be the everyday occurrences most affecting America’s future: attendance, respecting authority, overcoming awkward moments, time management, handling adversity, and high-fiving a new friend in the hallway.
Parents and guardians may not have a union to stand up for them, but they do have the option to sign the petition at the end of this article. Students, on the other hand, will continue to be at the mercy of adult debates. Robin Lake, Director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, feels that some students who have not attended school in months are getting lost, “I feel like we are treating students like pawns in this game.”
In the fall of 2020, the world will see how this main event unfolds. Stay tuned!
To sign the petition visit: http://chng.it/4rXgRkfcq5
Bryan and Anita Kuderna, parents of three, operate Kuderna Financial in Shrewsbury. Bryan, a graduate of the College of New Jersey, is a certified financial planner and author of “Millennial Millionaire – A Guide to Become a Millionaire by 30” (U.S. 1, November 15, 2017). Anita is a registered nurse at Bayshore Community Hospital and a graduate of Kean University.