If the Fairfax Education Association had its way, public schools would remain closed until at least August 2021—and possibly much longer.
The union representing teachers in the northern Virginia school district is asking parents to sign a petition demanding all-virtual education until a "scientifically proven vaccine or highly effective treatment" is available.
"The metric for Safe Reopening should be 14 days of zero community spread," wrote the teachers.
The petition comes as Fairfax officials are moving toward a limited reopening of schools for some students, involving two days per week of in-person instruction. Elsewhere across the country, many private schools have reopened, as have some public school districts. Large districts in major cities like Chicago, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and New York City have proceeded with extreme caution, even though some of those districts have extremely low COVID-19 case numbers.
The preliminary data from schools that have reopened suggests the risks of outbreaks are low. While many colleges and universities have seen significant spikes—mostly due to social gatherings outside the classroom—there's little evidence of surging cases in K-12 education. Moreover, kids and teenagers seem to have very, very little to fear from COVID-19 in terms of their own health outcomes. They represent a category of people for whom the consequences of heavy-handed mitigation efforts—having to endure distance learning, for instance—are much worse than the disease itself.
But teachers unions don't represent the interests of students, parents, or families in general. They represent the interests of public employees who get paid regardless of whether they have to show up for work or not. For the union, a cost-benefit analysis might never favor reopening: As long as there's any danger whatsoever, why not keep teachers at home?
"Since none of the requirements for safe return are likely to be met in the foreseeable future of the 2020-21 school year, we reiterate: Keep Fairfax County Public Schools Virtual for the 2020-21 school year," wrote the union.
But one can easily imagine this demand extending well beyond next fall. Such is the result of making the needs of children the lowest possible priority.