For New NJ Teacher Union Group, Politics Trumps Safe School Reopenings

I’m all for safety. As the mom of four young adults (and the mother-in-law of two more), I worry about any of them contracting COVID-19, not to mention my husband, myself, and all our loved ones. While I’m desperate (really, you have no idea) for the day when our youngest can return to his day program, we’re stoically resigned to the reality that this won’t happen any time soon.

This has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with science. While neuro-typical 20-somethings can reliably wear masks and control their excretions, not all of our son’s peers will. It’s too big a risk.

How big a risk is it to send students and teachers back to school? Again, this is a decision that should be undergirded by science, not politics. So it disturbs me that a New Jersey group called NJ21United (a reference to the state’s 21 counties?) is politicizing a hard call that should be driven by epidemiology, not teacher union agendas.

A little background: NJ21United is a branch of a consortium called National Educators United, which began operating last December. NEU says it’s unlike NEA and AFT, which are “top-down business unions, historically in partnership with corporate political parties,” while it strives to be a “bottom-up, class struggle organizations” and it’s different from militant arms of teacher unions (like Badass Teachers Association) because of “our strategy of building toward mass mobilizations.” I don’t know where NEU gets its funding because it hasn’t filed an IRS 990 yet.

This week, July 27th-August 3d, is NJ21United’s “Week of Action.” There’s a petition, a letter-writing and phonecall campaign, and a “Last Will and Testament Delivery,” all culmininating in “Trenton Motor March and Die-In” next Monday.

There’s even a hashtag: #OnlyWhenIt’sSafe.

Example:

Sign Blast – Last Will and Testament Demonstration

Visit your County Superintendent’s office early in the morning (or even the night before) and sign-blast them! 

Get out some of your old political campaign signs that you have lying around and cover them with large white paper. Take a large marker or some paint and write #OnlyWhenItsSafe!! Do this on both sides so that it is seen from the office and from the road.

Place them on the public property in front of the county superintendent’s office. 

Don’t forget to take a picture!!!

And here’s today’s action:

Hey, I want everyone to be safe too. But here’s my problem: the list of demands from NJ21United strays from empirically-based guidance aimed at COVID protection and crosses the line into self-interested, adult-centric, market share-motivated demands like limiting school choice and eschewing accountability.

It’s like the U.S. Senate adding $1.75 billion to its coronavirus relief bill for rebuilding the FBI building that happens to be across the street from the Trump Hotel. Similarly, NJ21United is practicing pork barrel politics instead of limiting its agenda to what’s truly best for students, particularly those trapped in low-performing school districts. By choosing that route the group loses all credibility.

Example from an internal document that lays out the week’s events:

Educators, school staff members, students, parents, and community members around the state have been expressing their concerns about schools actually being safe for face-to-face learning in September. 

After a statewide discussion, consensus was built around some key points.

  1. Instead of starting in-person learning this September, all schools should be focused on a phased  approach that allows educators, school staff members, parents, and students focus on making sure proper sanitation protocols and training are in place, including “Right to Know” trainings, professional development for trauma informed learning, and robust remote learning. Relationships need to be established between families and staff to support our students for the 2020/2021 school year even before buildings are opened. 
  1. School buildings should not reopen for in-person instruction until we have reached a benchmark of 14 days with no new cases. 
  1. All local associations must be equally represented on school reopening committees.
  1. All school staff and students are provided with necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). 
  1. New Jersey must apply for an additional ESSA waiver for standardized testing for the 2020-2021 school year. 
  • 6. The state continues to uphold a moratorium on new charter schools and extends that moratorium to include the expansion of existing charter schools.

The first four are fine. Except for #2, which says there can’t be any in-person instruction until there’s not a single case in 14 days. Seriously?  Look, even under the best-case scenarios, that’s a long, long way off. In fact, some specialists theorize that COVID-19 will be endemic, circulating for years like measles, chicken pox, and HIV. So we should close schools for a decade or until we’re all inoculated with a vaccine? (Currently only 50% of Americans plan on getting one if it becomes available.)

At best, this demand is unrealistic. At worst, it’s a ploy to delay in-person instruction until, well, who knows. It’s also self-destructive: How many parents are going to wait for the olden days when pandemics were restricted to Hollywood movies and century-old retellings of the Spanish Flu? Can’t you see the lines for New Jersey’s high performing public charters (and, for the wealthy, private schools) unburdened by unrealistic union demands and far more ready for robust online instruction

Yet it’s the last two items that belie a more craven agenda than protecting the health of teachers and kids.

Do NJ21United leaders really think it’s best for kids — and for maximizing teacher effectiveness — if we stop keeping track of student learning growth? Sure, districts can give diagnostic assessments on their own, but how will we — as a state —measure our strength and weaknesses without standardized state tests? How will we monitor achievement gaps that some experts think will grow quickly during this crisis? We know that COVID-related learning loss will be most severe for our most vulnerable kids and it’s just plain wrong to jettison that data.

Which brings us to the 6th demand: ”The state continues to uphold a moratorium on new charter schools and extends that moratorium to include the expansion of existing charter schools.”

This one really pisses me off. (I’m sure that’s a shock to many of you, lol.) While we sit and wait to reopen in-person instruction to satisfy delusional guidelines, the state should shut down public schools that disproportionately serve NJ’s low-income Black and brown students — who also happen to be hardest hit by the virus. A plague on both your houses.

What do you think?

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: You Thought NJ21United Is About Safe School Reopenings? Think Again. - NJ Left Behind

  2. Pingback: NJLeftBehind Digs into NJ21United and Finds a Lot More than COVID-related Issues – Sunlight Policy Center

  3. Pingback: Inzelbuch's Letter to Union Leaders Says Lakewood Isn't Risking Covid Contagion With Full-Time In-Person Schools - NJ Left Behind

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