There is a difference between making the right choice for students, making the right choice for teachers, and making the right choice for the unions.
In this COVID-19 crisis, making the right choice for students would be finding a way to get people into schools as safely as possible, providing instruction as needed in as much of a face-to-face setting as possible. As I mentioned on Monday, chief among our concerns for students should be figuring out how to provide the extra services 7 million American students with disabilities need in order to be successful in school.
In some instances, though, making the right choice for teachers and making the right choices for unions can be separated. Teachers can be trained to provide their students with a good education no matter the situation, and school districts can provide the means for teachers and students to be safe but also allow schools to operate as close to normal as possible.
The problem when it comes to making the right choices for teachers is that, in many places, the unions are in charge of deciding what is best for them, and the unions will decide what’s best based on what pushes their own agenda rather than the agenda that is best suited for our children.
The education system is at its best when it is pushed to serve the needs of students. When it is forced to meet the needs of unions, federal mandates, or just some magical statistical bar that makes administrators feel good inside, education is near worthless. For example, one of the biggest pushbacks against the Common Core State Standards for so many years has been how those standards were pushed to meet the needs of the workforce instead of students.
While there are many things I will disagree with Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards over, he has at least made the right call in letting local school districts decide how to handle opening their schools. Some districts have chosen virtual learning, some have chosen hybrid learning, and some are diving into the proverbial deep end with full-on, face-to-face learning. Edwards, to his credit, has not given in to the demands of the teacher unions in the state of Louisiana, instead letting local administrators decide how and when to open.
The same, though, cannot be said of California Governor Gavin Newsom.
Unions across California have called on the state’s schools to remain closed. The largest teacher union in the state, based in Los Angeles, demanded their insane wish list of a moratorium on private schools, defunding the police, increasing taxes on the wealthy, implementing Medicare for all, and other issues be address before schools open. All over California, the unions have essentially held California’s students hostage.
And it is the parents of special needs students who are finally losing their patience with a governor who would give in to these demands rather than allow their children to receive the assistance they need. From one parent who spoke to RedState’s Jen Van Laar:
I was really grateful that Hart had a plan to have our kids brought back to school. Even if we went to hybrid model it was some schooling rather than nothing. So when Newsom made his announcement, the first thing I thought was that Newsom didn’t get it. He’s very much out of touch with his constituents. I just thought that as a parent I’m listening to pediatricians, doctors; I’m doing my due diligence. When the pediatrician says this is the best, the healthiest thing for your child, I listen to that. They’re all saying that it’s imperative and essential to have my kids go back to school in person.
For him to disregard that and not really listen to what the professionals are saying, it’s just heartbreaking. You almost feel that you’re in a dictatorship.
Speech therapy is very hands-on. They’re looking at the student’s mouth, teaching them where to place their tongue to enunciate. Our children are hands-on learners. They need physical touch to remind them, this is the way you do it, this is how we sit, or to calm them down. They need to feel that human connection in order to learn. When they’re devoid of all of that support they can’t learn. It’s terrible that we are a forgotten population. No one spoke about us with school boards. The governor has never addressed it.
California enrolls just over 6 million students in its public schools. It serves around 750,000 students with needs — about 13 percent of its total student population, which is right around the national average (14 percent).
Around 120,000 of them are on the autism spectrum, which in many cases requires special assistance in managing. 300,000 have a specific learning disability that they need help overcoming. Over 160,000 have a speech or language impairment, often requiring speech therapy to help them become better communicators. Newsom’s decision to force schools to stay closed prevents many of those children from getting the assistance they need.
While teachers are struggling to adapt to this new normal, it is impossible for them (and, consequently, their students) to overcome the adversity of this new kind of school year when the teacher unions demand things stay shut down amid a virus that, at worst, appears to be stabilizing in California (at best, it appears the state might well be on the right track to recovery). Newsom’s continued siding with the unions over parents and students creates a major power imbalance within the education system.
But it is unfair for the parents to have to take up the job of being their students’ teachers’ aides while also having to work and provide for their families. It is one thing to be active in the school and be your child’s advocate, but it is something else completely when you also have to be their teacher. But, that is the decision that Newsom’s administration is forcing on parents.
Especially in an education system that appears at times to almost punish students for seeking help from their parents. It has become obvious in recent years that trends in education lend themselves more toward isolating children from their parents and making them entirely dependent on the school system for learning, rather than supplemental learning happening at home.
While Newsom focuses on keeping the unions happy, the students of California are forced to stay at home, away from friends and the necessary social and emotional connections they need to make in order to be mentally healthy. The parents of these students aren’t able to advocate for their children and instead must do their best to provide the support their children need. Support that the schools are required by law to give, but that Newsom is saying just isn’t that important.
Sure, there are ways to provide some of these services, but there are many cases when these students with special needs have to receive in-person reinforcement from trained educators who know how to bridge the gap between the teacher and the student. The way Newsom has handled education in his state, he is essentially telling the students most in need that they aren’t going to get it.