A group of teachers is prioritizing itself over students, experts say of recent tactics from the N.C. Association of Educators. 

About half of North Carolina’s school districts are closed for in-person instruction, while the other half have students alternating between learning in the classroom and attending school online throughout the week. Starting Oct. 5, school districts can choose to let elementary schools fully reopen.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced the change during a Sept. 17 news conference. The NCAE, which is usually in lockstep with the governor, criticized the decision. 

Terry Stoops wasn’t surprised.

The NCAE is more concerned with advancing the needs of adults than for children, said Stoops, who is vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation.

The NCAE’s goal exemplifies the inherent tension between teacher unions and student needs, said Jonathan Butcher, senior policy analyst for the Center for Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

While the NCAE isn’t technically a union, the organization often acts and talks like one. Though state law bans public employees from collective bargaining or striking, the NCAE has organized teacher walkouts and has flirted with the idea of staging strikes.

Its members have even referred to the group as a union.

For many, remote learning doesn’t work, Stoops said. 

Tara Deane is one parent whose children are struggling with remote learning. 

Deane’s four children attend school in Wake County. Her two youngest are adopted from China and have severe disabilities. The teletherapy services provided by the school district aren’t sufficient, and Deane’s children are regressing. 

“Remote learning was never and will never be an option for them,” Deane said during a Sept. 16 news conference hosted by Republican leaders. “Virtual learning cannot be accomplished when your child can’t verbalize and won’t look at the screen.”

“The NCAE’s desire to perpetuate remote learning indefinitely suggests that they are shockingly oblivious to the needs of children,” Stoops said. 

Studies have shown that younger children are less likely to transmit COVID-19 or become seriously ill from the virus. 

With proper precautions in place, schools can safely reopen, Stoops said. 

Reopened elementary schools will still have to employ safety measures to keep students and staff safe, including requiring face masks and social distancing. But the schools won’t have to reduce capacity in the classroom or on the school bus. 

For the NCAE, that’s a deal breaker, bringing predictable objections.

Loosening COVID-19 guidelines further is flirting with danger, NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly said in a news release. 

Teachers must take the fight to local school boards, superintendents, and principals to keep elementary schools closed, Bryan Proffitt, NCAE vice president, said during a Sept. 17 emergency meeting

This thinking fails to consider the needs of the community, Butcher said. 

Local school districts, parents, and health officials should work together in deciding when it’s safe to reopen, he said. 

If public schools won’t reopen, then parents should have the ability to send their children elsewhere, Butcher said.

But the NCAE is trying to kill that option, too.

On July 27, a group of parents, supported by the NCAE and the National Education Association, filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s private school voucher program.

Through the Opportunity Scholarship Program, more than 12,000 children are able to attend the private school of their choice. Ending the program could mean returning these students to schools that won’t meet their individual needs.

Now is not the time to limit educational opportunities, Butcher said.