Across the country, teacher unions are demanding that school reopenings be postponed and many state and local officials are acquiescing to those demands, which is fueling greater interest among parents in school-choice alternatives.
In Florida, the state teachers union has sued to block school reopenings scheduled for the end of August.
In California, the United Teachers of Los Angeles has issued a long list of demands regarding the reopening of schools, some which involve safety issues, while others, such as raising the personal income tax rate, defunding the police, placing a moratorium on charter schools, and increasing financial aid to undocumented students and families, are highly political.
National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcia claims that schools could become “the germ factory,” the “super spreader,” and “the source of the new surge in your community.” But are such claims actually true?
The unions point to a South Korean study that found that children between 10 and 18 as just as likely to spread the COVID virus as adults. Yet, there are other studies that come to different conclusions.
A just released study of more than 2,000 children and teachers in Germany found COVID in less than 1 percent of the students and instructors. Most important, children did not seem to be super spreaders, as U.S. union leaders insinuate.
“It is rather the opposite,” said Professor Reinhard Berner, the head of pediatric medicine at Dresden University Hospital and the leader of the study. “Children act more as a brake on infection. Not every infection that reaches them is passed on.”
The study found that the virus did not spread rapidly in a school setting, undercutting the union claim that schools would be sources of surges of disease.
Indeed, says Berner, “the majority of schoolchildren do not get infected themselves despite an infection in the household.”
The study was conducted in the German state of Saxony because schools reopened in Saxony with full class sizes in May.
American medical experts have come to similar conclusions as the German researchers.
University of Virginia Children’s Hospital pediatric cardiologist Dr. Douglas Allen has pointed out that numerous peer-reviewed studies “document the essentially zero risk schools pose in spreading this illness to teachers, parents, or other adults in the school setting,” meaning the “science and data are clear—our children can return to school without risk to the students or the teachers.”
Yet, the unions have been effective in causing reopening delays in many states including California. In turn, however, large numbers of parents are looking for other alternatives.
It is worth noting that at the end of July, San Diego Unified School District announced that they had agreed upon an online learning plan supported by the teachers union and education leaders.
However, many charter schools are reopening faster than regular public schools and parents have rushed to enroll their children in these charters.
“I have never seen this type of interest in the 10 years that I’ve been involved with charter schools,” says California charter school director Kathy Grbac.
Also, interest and enrollment in private schools from New York to Minnesota to other states is increasing.
Adam Baber, a private school principal in New York, says that admission inquiries have increased “partly due to our intention to reopen our campus safely and fully with regular in-person attendance. We know many families are looking for that.”
Also, unlike blue-state governors who have kowtowed to the unions, governors in Oklahoma and South Carolina have directed part of their states’ federal education relief dollars to fund private-school scholarships.
Finally, many parents are seriously considering homeschooling. According to a July Harris poll, 79 percent of New York parents are more open to the idea of homeschooling. Nationwide, two-thirds of parents are open to that option.
That interest has led to a significant increase in homeschooling in states such as Washington, Texas and Utah.
Indeed, a sea change in the way Americans view schooling may be taking place. In North Carolina, for example, Democrat Governor Roy Cooper has announced a plan, endorsed by the state teachers’ union, that allows public schools to reopen only with limited capacity and with school districts given the power to keep schools totally closed.
Not surprisingly, a July survey showed that 94 percent of North Carolina parents “feel more inclined to support policies expanding school choice during the coronavirus crisis.”
The virus, therefore, is not the only thing that is unpredictable.
Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute.