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EDITORIAL: Teachers union shift on reopenings is pure politics

Even a cynic has to be awed at the American Federation of Teachers’ brazen about-face on school reopenings.

For months, this teachers union fought to keep school buildings closed. It didn’t matter that schools around the world and the country held in-person classes without causing a spike in coronavirus cases. It didn’t matter that the coronavirus posed less risk to children than the seasonal flu. It didn’t matter that online classes resulted in worse academic outcomes for students and concerns about their mental health.

Their influence wasn’t just limited to certain school districts or states. President Joe Biden came into office pledging to reopen schools. “It should be a national priority to get our kids back into school and keep them in school,” he said in December. He pledged to open up a majority of schools within his first 100 days in office.

That sentiment didn’t last long once Randi Weingarten, AFT president, objected. In February, the supposedly nonpartisan Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent the union its proposed school reopening guidelines for review. AFT officials suggested certain changes be made, and the CDC even copied and pasted language written by the union into its final guidelines.

So much for following the science.

But last week, Ms. Weingarten reversed course. She called for a return to five-day-a-week in-person instruction next fall. “Conditions have changed,” she said. “We can and we must reopen schools in the fall for in-person teaching, learning and support. And we must keep them open fully and safely five days a week.”

The timing was curious to say the least. That’s been obvious for months. It was odd to see her shift the union’s position so quickly. What happened later that same day, however, provided a plausible explanation. The CDC announced that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear a mask in most circumstances.

That’s a little too coincidental. Perhaps Ms. Weingarten received a heads up on the changing guidance and acted accordingly. The union’s close ties to both the CDC and White House are well-established.

Politicians often shift their positions in response to the shifting winds of public opinion. It’s rare to see a special interest group do it so obviously.

“The Biden administration and teachers unions are mounting a campaign to return American children to classrooms five days a week,” Politico reported Monday. Don’t be fooled. AFT leaders haven’t suddenly discovered the err of their ways. They’re trying to ensure that the months they spent scaring parents about the risks of in-person instruction doesn’t translate into thousands of children opting for alternative schooling options next fall.

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