Teachers Unions Again Flex Political Muscle, This Time on Masking

'Trapping children in these government school systems that trample on their liberties...is...state-sanctioned child abuse...

(Kerry McDonald, Foundation for Economic Education) On Monday, the Massachusetts Teachers Union unanimously voted to endorse mandatory mask-wearing for all students in preschool through college, calling on the governor to issue a mask order.

Teachers unions have recently advocated for required school masking in other states as well, and the head of the country’s second largest teachers union said on Monday that mandatory masking would be essential to safe school reopenings this fall.

The push for universal, mandatory masking in schools this fall, regardless of vaccination status, comes as new research shows a correlation between the strength of a local teachers union and the likelihood of a school district imposing a mask mandate.

“We found that a 1-standard-deviation increase in the teachers’ unionization rate was associated with a 12.5 percent relative increase in the probability that a school district adopted a mask mandate,” researchers reported this month in Health Affairs.

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These new findings echo related research during the previous academic year showing that teacher union influence was directly related to whether or not schools reopened for full-time, in-person learning. In October 2020, Brown University researchers concluded that teacher unions played an outsized role in school reopening decisions, stating that “politics, far more than science, shaped school district decision-making.”

In March 2021, a different set of researchers reached a similar conclusion. “Our findings that school closures are uncorrelated with the actual incidence of the virus, but are rather strongly associated with unionization, implies that the decision to close schools has been a political—not scientific—decision,” Corey DeAngelis and Christos Makridis wrote in their paper published in Social Science Quarterly.

DeAngelis has been an outspoken critic of the teachers unions, including their new push to mandate masks. “Teachers unions benefit from this constant state of school system disorder because they can use the chaos as leverage to argue for more taxpayer resources to return to normalcy,” he told me recently.

“Teachers unions can also further minimize any perceived risks—no matter how low they are to begin with—for their members, while making their customers’ lives unpleasant and chaotic, because they lack bottom-up accountability,” he added.

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DeAngelis advocates for education dollars to follow students instead of bureaucratic school systems to enable more accountability and choice. If families had broader freedom of exit from a mandatory school assignment tied to their zip code, it would help them to find the best education fit for their children and prompt district schools to improve in an effort to attract and retain local students.

“Trapping children in these government school systems that trample on their liberties for years without meaningful exit options is a large-scale form of state-sanctioned child abuse. It’s time to empower families to free their children from the clutches of unaccountable teachers unions by funding students instead of systems,” DeAngelis said.

While this has been an extraordinary year for school choice, with expanding legislation in several states that empower families, many parents aren’t waiting around for policy changes. They are exiting public schools in record numbers. Homeschooling numbers tripled last year from their pre-pandemic levels, and they show no signs of declining. The Associated Press reported last week that parents are continuing to choose homeschooling this fall “even as schools plan to resume in-person classes.”

Some of these parents are choosing to exit district schools this year as a direct result of school mask mandates. As teachers unions push harder for mandatory masking, they may be prompting more families to find other, private learning options for their children. A Georgia mother went on national television last week to say that she was pulling her children out of the state’s largest school district due to its mandatory mask policies.

“I compromised last year when they allowed our students to go back into the building…and we put the masks on our children, but no more,” Holly Terei told Fox News. “I do not co-parent with my school board, I do not co-parent with the CDC, and I certainly do not co-parent with this administration,” she added.

Terei said she plans to homeschool or find virtual learning options not connected to her school district. Other parents are also taking a stand against child masking policies.

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order last week prohibiting mask mandates in schools and leaving individual masking decisions up to parents. “Many Florida schoolchildren have suffered under forced masking policies, and it is prudent to protect the ability of parents to make decisions regarding the wearing of masks by their children,” DeSantis said on Friday.

School mask mandates may anger many parents but, fortunately, there are now a wide variety of affordable, accessible education options available to them beyond their child’s local school assignment. I write about some of these learning possibilities in my new, free ebook, The 2021 Curious Parent’s Guide to Education Options.

Parents don’t need to be beholden to powerful teachers unions and school district officials. They can reassume control of their children’s education from education bureaucrats and provide their kids with a top-notch education. As DeAngelis says, “it’s time to free your children from the clutches of the teachers unions.”

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