Op-Ed: Mask mandate is gone for most Illinois schools, but teachers unions still demand more power over kids, parents

(The Center Square) – Illinois’ largest teachers unions in the past two pandemic years have shown their priority is power, not students’ welfare or parents’ rights.

In 2020-2021, the Chicago…

(The Center Square) – Illinois’ largest teachers unions in the past two pandemic years have shown their priority is power, not students’ welfare or parents’ rights.

In 2020-2021, the Chicago Teachers Union fought to prevent the reopening of schools and kept kids out of the classroom for 17 months, even as experts around the country acknowledged in-person learning was best for kids. January 2022 was a near repeat, with CTU walking out on kids for five school days, demanding remote work and renegotiating safety standards with Chicago Public Schools.

The district just announced masks can come off March 14, but again CTU is filing a grievance to keep control over a choice parents should make and asserting union bosses know better than public health experts.

The Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers also recently fought to keep the state school mask mandate in place. When a legal challenge to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s mandate reached a state appellate court, IEA and IFT filed a legal brief asking the court to keep kids in masks while the case continued, despite falling COVID-19 case rates.

The message to parents is clear: union leaders think their preferred policies should overpower what parents think is best for their children.

But the fight for union control over parents’ decisions doesn’t end with COVID-19 policies. Teachers unions are also fighting to hold complete power over the people of Illinois through a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Inaccurately dubbed a “workers’ rights amendment” by proponents, Amendment 1 would actually place multiple provisions into the Illinois Constitution allowing government unions to demand virtually anything during negotiations. If voters agree, it would prohibit anyone, including lawmakers, from ever limiting what unions could demand or when they could strike.

Unions would be able to bargain about anything during contract negotiations, even beyond salary and benefits to include political requests. They could strike to get their demands met. Then expect more property or income tax hikes by governments to fund union demands.

What’s more, government union contracts would carry the weight of the Illinois Constitution. Government unions would be able to rewrite law through union contracts, and lawmakers’ hands would be tied, leaving voters powerless to hold anyone accountable.

No other state constitution includes such broad language, giving government unions in Illinois the most extreme powers in the nation if the amendment passes. If they succeed in Illinois, expect unions to campaign for the same powers in other states – taking choice away from individuals and letting unelected union bosses to dictate public policy.

CTU already has gone so far as to claim its “safety agreement” with CPS requires kids – clearly not a party to that agreement – to stay masked, despite what Illinois courts and law may say. If Amendment 1 passes, CTU’s “safety agreement” would automatically override any laws or state policies to the contrary.

And that’s just the start.

CTU has already pushed its social agenda on housing, immigration, wealth redistribution and defunding the police in negotiations with CPS. Amendment 1 would allow unlimited demands, and the union’s permanent ability to walk out on kids to achieve their political agenda.

IEA and IFT’s amicus curiae brief in the Fourth District Appellate Court shows teachers unions believe their opinions and agenda should trump parental preferences, law and even the courts.

The unions argued courts are not well-suited to make “scientific judgments” when considering the legality of student mask mandates, and that doing so would improperly elevate courts to a role in crafting public policy.

Yet that’s exactly what the unions have tried to do.

The teachers unions are not health authorities, but they have articulated demands allegedly in the form of “safety” protocols and – as in the case of CTU – have walked out on students to get those demands met. In fact, CTU did so in 2022 despite Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady stating she was confident schools were safe for in-person classes.

What’s more, CTU wants its “safety agreement,” which was demanded and crafted by the union – an unelected, third party – to be followed, rather than current guidance of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The unions don’t really want health officials to make the rules. The unions want to make the rules. And that’s exactly what will happen if Amendment 1 passes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown parents they don’t have representation at the bargaining table. If unions demand something, they can walk out until their demands are met. Parents don’t have that option and have been locked out of a meaningful say in issues related to the education of their own children.

Amendment 1 poses a real danger to the public schools in Illinois. Parents will lose all say over the day-to-day education of their children. Teachers unions would have a permanent right to strike to get whatever they want.

And parents’ rights, and what’s best for kids, would be at the back of the line.