This weekend, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie published an opinion piece recalling his old disputes with labor unions. He argues that by resisting his education reforms, the unions left many communities "held hostage by failure." And now, with schools all over the country still shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Christie has observed that adults are again "placing their own interests ahead of the interests of the children."
Christie provided research to prove that there's no reason why we can't start sending kids back to school in a safe manner. For instance, in a piece for The Journal of the American Medical Association, three researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found “little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.” Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, has noted that teachers don't all need to be vaccinated upon return. According to the spin master, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, that's not "official guidance."
That should have been enough "science" for the Biden administration to reopen schools. But Christie, like many observers, notes that the president is too fearful of the teachers unions and their political clout to do the right thing.
Lawmakers like Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) have condemned the Biden administration for forgetting who to put first in this battle over schools.
Joe Biden was saying follow the science until the science said open the schools.— Steve Scalise (@SteveScalise) February 22, 2021
Now he's following the teachers unions. And leaving students to suffer. pic.twitter.com/MyaCL7rLUg
But the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teachers union in the country, opposed Christie's take and tried to argue this weekend that they were not the reason that schools had largely remained closed during the coronavirus pandemic. It's those pesky Republicans.
Teachers, staff, and the unions behind them are not a barrier to schools reopening. We are a barrier to staff and students being put in danger for Republican talking points. https://t.co/0nHKUl8e5p— AFT (@AFTunion) February 20, 2021
Except it's not just Republicans who want kids back in class. In Chicago, Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been pushing back against the CTU for weeks to find a compromise. She made no secret of her frustration with the union in press conferences. She was “deeply disappointed" that they had a standstill for weeks and "there were a series of steps backwards that were simply not productive."
AFT President Randi Weingarten argued on "Meet the Press" that her union "wants" to return to school. They just "want to be safe." Some local unions like the one in Fairfax County, Virginia have been resisting in-person learning. Members demanded getting to go to the front of the vaccine lines, only to later argue that students needed to also be vaccinated before school resumed. Asked to respond, Weingarten simply said that "people are scared."