The Teachers' Unions Show Their True Colors | Opinion

Back-to-school season usually ushers in sales on lunch boxes and backpacks and long lists of school supplies for parents to purchase. This year? Try political stunts involving fake "body bags" and long lists of partisan demands from the teachers' unions.

Teachers' unions across the country have a message for every American. Teachers are afraid—too afraid to go back to school. The unions have worked overtime to drive home one theme: In-person instruction will lead to teachers' deaths. Never mind that the scientific studies and experiences of most countries around the globe tell us something entirely different.

This summer, the experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shared new guidelines about the importance of reopening schools in the fall, noting that teachers are able to safely return to school and reduce their likelihood of contracting the virus by taking recommended precautions. CDC reports have also found children and adolescents are at low risk of contracting the virus, accounting for less than 7 percent of COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1 percent of COVID-19-related deaths. The data and science are simply not on the teachers' unions side. Schools remaining closed disproportionately affects low-income and minority children, as well as children with disabilities.

While children in France, Germany and most European countries, in fact, are returning to their classroom setting for education, the unions representing teachers in the United States want to use the school shutdowns as an opportunity to usher in radical political change in the nation. In order to do so, they insist that teachers are risking their lives if they return to schools.

In Iowa, the teachers' unions engaged in a political gimmick, asking teachers to write their own obituaries and send those to the governor. In Arizona, the unions went out of their way to provide obituary templates for teachers to print out and fill in before sending them off to the governor. The Washington, D.C. teachers' union wins the prize for the most gruesome antic, however, which involved lining up homemade body bags on the streets of the nation's capital, representing the bodies of teachers who will catch COVID-19 in the classroom and die.

Even as the unions grasp at straws to build their case that their teachers are terrified of dying if classrooms reopen, they have tripped over their own messaging and built another narrative—one that belies their true political motives in keeping the schools' doors shut.

2019 teachers' union strike in Los Angeles
2019 teachers' union strike in Los Angeles Scott Heins/Getty Images

Many teachers' unions across the country have made clear that they do not want the schools to reopen unless they receive a laundry list of big government, far-left policies. A teachers' union in Los Angeles, for example, is demanding "Medicare for All" to be passed by Congress before the schools can reopen. North Carolina teachers' unions, meanwhile, insist on Medicaid expansion, guaranteed income (regardless of immigration status), universal health care and—wait for it—defunding school choice.

The teachers' unions have every reason to be afraid—but not of COVID. They are correct to fear that their days of near-monopolistic control on children's education are waning, as parents across the country engage in school choice, putting their kids in private schools or electing to homeschool instead.

In Detroit, the teachers went on strike this week because they want hazard pay for teachers and an assurance that the school district will not outsource their jobs to private teachers. They are right to be afraid that the school district will look to private options to fill an unfulfilled demand. That's how the marketplace works, after all.

In a recent nationwide poll, 15 percent of families say they are "very likely" to switch to homeschooling full-time. That translates to roughly 7.5 million additional homeschoolers nationwide—a trend that may be difficult for the unions to stop. Other parents who had never considered private school before are finding these schools to be a superior alternative to virtual schooling through public schools.

Options and the ability to make free choices are pillars of individual liberty and our American way of life. That's a tough pill to swallow for the teachers' unions, which have fought for decades to restrict school choice.

The pandemic and its resulting restructuring of many aspects of our lives may be the death of the unions' monopoly on our children's education. No wonder they are resorting to over-the-top illustrations of death. Let's just be sure we don't lose sight of what the unions actually fear.

Ken Buck is a member of Congress from Colorado. He serves on the House Judiciary Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.