News from Annapolis
Special Edition
Delegate Trent Kittleman - District 9A
February 24, 2021

Contents: Education Part VI:
Why are our schools still closed?
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As hard as this pandemic has been on adults, it has been worse for our children, and worse still for minority and lower-income students. Many families don’t have access to the internet; good students are seeing their grades plummet due primarily to technology and virtual learning; students with disabilities become negatively affected by sitting in front of a computer screen all day.

In July 2020, the CDC provided a lengthy report on the damage attributable to schools being closed: “the harm on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant. Further, the lack of in-person educational options disproportionately harms low-income and minority children and those living with disabilities." 

But that’s not all. Being cooped up for almost a year with no opportunity to interact with other kids at school is having a devastating effect on the mental health of many children, cut off from any access to social interaction with their peers.

 This depression has even led to suicides among our children, even as young as 14 years old. Baltimore and Howard Counties, among others, have experienced this tragedy.
Broad Consequences
Third-grade children are particularly vulnerable. Between 3rd and 4th grade is when teachers focus on ensuring the students can read. It has been shown that children who can’t read by the end of third grade suffer long-term consequences. 
Seniors in high school may be suffering the most. The last year is when the students prepare for the next step; apply for college; get offered scholastic and athletic scholarships.

Patrick Ameyaw is a senior in Harlem, New York, who puts it this way: “I feel like they just kind of looked at the public-school kids and was like, you know what? They’re not really that important. It really hurts because your senior year is the most important year. And right now, I have friends who have not been able to apply to college because there’s no leadership they don’t have the guidance counselors helping them. They don’t have the teachers helping them. They don’t have recommendations.“ This is a time, and these are things they will never get back.

Why? Because the teachers’ unions have fought reopening every step of the way.  
The Power of the Teachers’ Unions.  
The power of the public school teachers’ unions is legendary. Politicians are terrified of losing union support and are reluctant to vote against any union bill. The unions are aware of their power and know how to use it. That is why they can make all sorts of demands without embarrassment. 

A collective bargaining contract in New York includes a list of things that principals are forbidden to require of teachers. Among the list are:
  • attending more than one staff meeting per month after school hours,
  • walking the children to a school bus,
  • patrolling the hallways or the lunchroom or the schoolyard,
  • covering an extra class in an emergency,
  • attending a lunchtime staff meeting, or
  • coming in a few days prior to the opening of school each September to do some planning.
And that is why they can ignore the fact that countless essential workers – doctors, nurses, paramedics, bus drivers -- have stayed on the job under circumstances far more dangerous than teaching, without complaint.  
A “proud, card-carrying member of the Columbia Postdoctoral Workers Union, Local 4100” writes, “I value public school education and my children are enrolled in public school in New York City. But I am running out of patience with the public school teachers and their stubborn refusal to return to normal working hours and in-person teaching."
In his article, “The Teachers Union Has Become a Public Menace,” he goes on to say, “Across the country, this attitude is hurting working mothers,. . . and it's causing significant damage to the well-being of children, particularly the underprivileged.

“In addition to harming working parents and children,” he concludes, “the teachers union intransigence does reputational harm to all unions. It's giving unions a bad name, making them look like incubators of pampered public menacing. And I say that as a proud member of a union!”
Across the nation, teachers’ unions are fighting against going back to work with every tool they have.
  • An AP News article by Collin Binkley, July 28, 2020 proclaimed in a headline, “National teacher union supports strikes over reopening plans.” The article reported that the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.7 million school employees, issued a resolution to support any local chapter that decided to strike over reopening plans.
  • In Minneapolis, the teachers’ union launched a social media campaign of fearmongering, telling parents that when the schools reopen there will be two months of standardized testing, teachers unable to see their families, and that the kids will be bringing home COVID-19.

  • In many states, the teachers’ unions are using their power over school reopenings to negotiate a wish list of demands, including more vacations and bigger budgets
  • The Maryland State Education Association wants “expanded summer and after-school programs and tutoring, enhanced broadband functionality and increased mental health personnel” and passage of the union-backed, multi-billion-dollar school funding legislation called the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.”
  • Locally, when Howard County teachers were called back to work the union members voted to “work to rule.”  The "Work to Rule Resolution" states that until teachers and staff are fully vaccinated, teachers:
... ......§ will not respond to emails outside of their working hours,
..... ....§ will not honor substitute request when a teacher is out sick,
....... ..§ will not be cleaning up after students, and
..... ....§ elementary school teachers will not provide coverage for lunch or recess duties.
"Staff are finished sacrificing everything for an employer who has no respect for their lives or their work," said President of the Howard County Education Association, Colleen Morris.
  • Howard County parents then received an email from teachers asking them to have their children dress in red when they return to school to show their support for the teachers work-to-rule decision.
Having said all that, I must conclude by acknowledging that the unions are acting like unions: they are working to maximize benefits for teachers (and for the union dues). That’s what unions do. Some do it more aggressively than others.

The solution isn’t to fault the unions for doing their job. The solution is to recognize that the union is NOT acting in the interests of our children—despite what they always tell us—they are working for their members. “The teachers’ unions spend millions each year on advertising to convince the American people that when they flex their political muscle . . . they are working for the benefit of the nation’s schoolchildren.” 
Why Won’t they listen to us?

One of the main reasons the teachers’ unions in Maryland are so aggressive and so successful is because they are a virtual monopoly.  They have convinced Marylanders (legislators in particular) that the traditional public school system – the schools the unions represent – is sacrosanct.  The unions have convinced the power structure that regardless of how poorly some schools perform, year after year, the only solution is to work hard and come up with a plan, or an intervention, or a strategy to fix those schools.
The unions are so successful in promoting that mindset that several years ago, the legislative majority memorialized the mantra in writing. In 2017, the legislature passed an omnibus education bill, HB-978, called the “Protect our Schools” bill. In this piece of legislation, §7-203.4 laid out the steps to be taken when a school needs “comprehensive support” to improve student outcomes.  In the first instance, the county school board must "develop and implement a comprehensive support and improvement plan.”  

The bill then considers what to do if, after a 2-year period student outcomes have not improved. In this case, the county board “shall consult with the school to develop additional strategies and interventions.”
Finally, if after a 3-year period student outcomes have not improved, the “new” solution is as follows: “the department shall collaborate with the county board in determining the appropriate intervention strategy, subject to existing collective bargaining agreements.” Yes, that’s what the law says.  
And if that weren’t sufficiently insufficient, the bill went one step further to prohibit almost any innovative idea that might possibly help kids who have been stuck in a failing school for at least three years. The list of prohibited actions is as follows:
“An intervention strategy . . .may not include:
  • creating a state-run school district;
  • creating a local school system in addition to the school systems established in this article;
  • converting or creating a new public school without local board approval;
  • converting a public school to a charter school;
  • (iv) issuing scholarships to public school students to attend nonpublic schools through direct vouchers, tax credit programs, or education savings accounts; and
  • contracting with a for–profit company.
I have to admit I was impressed that, at the last minute, the prohibition against charter schools was lifted. Nonetheless, the idea of prohibiting almost anything innovative that might possibly help kids who have been stuck in a failing school for at least three years shows just how powerful the Maryland teachers’ unions are. They permit no challenge to their monopoly control.
Next week: What Can We Do?
Kittleman Legislative Scholarship
District 9-A Residents
High school seniors, current undergraduate students at a 4-year college, a community college, or a private career school are eligible to apply for a Legislative Scholarship.
Please EMAIL your applications to Trent.Kittleman@House.State.MD.US
For questions regarding the application process, call my Annapolis office and speak with Chelsea Leigh Murphy, my Legislative Aide, at 410-841-3556.
District 9A
District News will return next week.