December 15, 2020

How teachers’ unions are influencing decisions on school reopenings

Throughout the pandemic, teachers’ unions in many states and large districts have played a powerful role in negotiating school closures and reopenings. And with coronavirus cases surging around the nation, the labor groups are continuing to flex their political muscle, most often pushing for a more conservative approach to getting teachers and kids back in buildings.

While not all districts need to reach an agreement with their unions to resume in-person instruction, they do need teachers to show up. And in many cases, unions are arguing that they do want students to go back, but only when particular safety precautions are in place.

“Teachers’ unions have an outsized voice—you can’t do reopenings without the teachers,” said Bradley Marianno, an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who studies educational governance and teachers’ unions.

Several statewide teachers’ unions, including in Illinois, Maryland, and Wisconsin, have put pressure on their governors to shut down schools across the state or set clear benchmarks that dictate when districts will have to close their doors. Currently, 11 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have state-ordered full or partial closures in effect, EdWeek has found.

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