Now Why Would the Teachers Unions Be Ready to Negotiate on Masking?

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

It would appear that Randi Weingarten, the head of one of the largest teachers unions in the country, is open to starting the discussion on easing out of masking in schools. At least, that’s the implication of a particular quote from a New York Times opinion piece making the rounds last night.

Weingarten is one of the most powerful women in public education. Her organization, the American Federation of Teachers, commands enough influence in Democratic politics that she and her organization guided the U.S. government’s talking points on how schools should handle the COVID-19 crisis after they were asked by the Biden administration for their assistance.

In other words, she and her organization are at least partially responsible for many local school districts shutting down during the pandemic and adopting virtual education. They have a hand in lagging scores, delayed educational development, and delayed social and emotional development in your children. They are a large part of why kids are still having to wear masks in many schools.

They stood by that, claiming the whole way through that it was about what was best for the students despite us knowing now (and strongly suspected going in) that this would do more harm than good.

For some strange reason, though, Weingarten and her supporters are walking a lot of this back. I suspect that there is a pretty good reason for that, best summed up in two words.

The unions' greatest fear: Glenn Youngkin.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

In Virginia, education played a big role in getting parents out to the polls, and it worked against Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe. In fact, McAuliffe had Weingarten on the stage with him at his closing rally, an image that solidified his association with the unions that were deeply affecting parents’ concerns about public education. McAuliffe lost, and by far more than anyone would have suspected, and Glenn Youngkin benefitted from parents’ anger.

Weingarten appears to be reading the tea leaves (and by “tea leaves,” I mean flashing neon signs) regarding her role as well as teachers unions’ roles in what happened in Virginia, and she wants to start pulling back on the things they openly advocated for. From the NYT piece linked above:

“The C.D.C. has been clear that everyone can unmask outside unless they’re in close contact with each other,” she said. “And I believe we need to give parents and teachers a road map to what it takes to start undoing the mitigations. It was clear that vaccines for teachers helped us reopen schools. Maybe it’s vaccines for kids helping us get to unmasking of teachers and kids in schools.”

Except, the data has never been more than anecdotal that masking in schools helped prevent spread. School-age students have always been at a lower risk of infection and transmission of COVID-19. What’s more, from the school districts that remained partially or fully-opened last school year, we saw virtually no mass spreader events, suggesting that transmission in schools was never a major threat.

What we still don’t quite know is whether or not masks had a hand in that, but anecdotally, multiple teachers across the country can attest that if there’s one thing kids can’t or won’t do, it’s wearing masks properly.

But now, Weingarten is open to negotiations to roll those mitigation efforts back. Not because the science is truly there, but because she sees all the sources of parent anger and how, more than anything, it weakens public schools (and, by extension, her and her union). That is the reason for the partial flip here, and what you can expect to see going forward. Democrats are going to try to adopt new mitigation efforts.

Not against COVID, mind you, but against parent backlash over the public school system.