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Unions’ Plan to Keep Teachers Safe: Replace them with TAs

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We’ve heard the reasoning behind shuttering schools and keeping kids home. Children don’t get COVID-19, but teachers do. And we’ve got to keep them safe, ok?

Teachers’ unions across the country have been repeating this line for months now. Some of us buy it, some of us don’t. It’s been debated ad nauseam in the press and in each school district. But now that the semester is underway, remote or partial schedules seem unlikely to change—at least until the November election, as the Los Angeles Health Director said in a puzzling recent statement.

But the timeline for school reopenings isn’t the strangest part. The biggest mystery is why teachers are at risk for infection, but paraprofessionals and support staff aren’t.

Yes, as PSEA southeast district secretary Denise Kennedy touted in a recent announcement, teachers’ aides are gifted with impervious immune systems. These superhuman powers will protect them in situations that are too dangerous for teachers.

Well, she didn’t claim that directly. But she implied it.

Quoted in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer story, Kennedy merrily described how teachers’ aides and other support staff are being “reassigned” to supervise children whose parents have to work. The supervision takes place in the empty classrooms whose former occupants are at home screen-learning.

“Why would you try to lay some of these people off or furlough, when if you think outside the box you can use them in a different way?” Kennedy pointed out. “It just troubles me that other districts aren’t able to do this.”

There’s nothing wrong with helping these teachers’ aides keep their jobs. But it contradicts teachers’ unions’ message of dangerous, disease-ridden classrooms that they used as the rationale for nationwide school shutdowns. Teacher’s aides and other support staff shouldn’t be treated like second-class citizens in their union—and this isn’t the first time they’ve been treated like fodder in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once again, the concerns and priorities of rank-and-file union members are in conflict with unions’ political ambitions and party-line cant. If schools are unsafe, they’re unsafe for everybody—and if they’re not, let’s be real with parents instead of fearmongering about the risk.

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