Lawyers representing parents in Virginia warned Fairfax County Public Schools that if a teachers’ union pushes members to participate in another so-called “sick-out” strike, they will respond with legal action, the Liberty Justice Center announced in a statement.
The Fairfax Education Association (FEA) urged its members in the school district to call in sick in late October for a “mental health day” ahead of a deadline for teachers’ decisions on whether to return to their classrooms for in-person learning. Teachers could also decide to take a leave of absence or resign.
The Liberty Justice Center (LJC), which represents the parents of students enrolled in the district, is calling the “mental health day” a “union-organized sick-out.” Since this is a form of strike, the legal group argued, it’s illegal in Virginia and any teacher who participates in one forfeits his or her employment.
If the union calls for another strike, legal action pushing school board members to fire teachers and union leaders will follow, the LJC warned.
“Teacher strikes are illegal for a reason: they negatively impact the academic achievement and emotional well-being of students,” the LJC’s demand letter to the FEA and the school district said.
The NEA president said “the union will keep pushing aggressively for safety and equity in schools during the pandemic through strikes, protests and sickouts.”
Denying that sickouts are part of the union’s national strategy to keep schools closed is ???? https://t.co/wKpa55aL1X
— Liberty Justice Center (@LJCenter) December 19, 2020
FEA’s president previously said that the “mental health day” was necessary because teachers were facing stress ahead of the Oct. 30 deadline, according to the Associated Press. The union said it encouraged all of its members and staff to take the “mental health or personal day” in order to “consider how to respond to this forced choice ultimatum between health danger, a year without pay or healthcare, and prematurely ending their career.”
The union has called on the school to remain virtual for the entire 2020-21 school year. In a press release, the Liberty Justice Center pointed to the consequences of virtual learning such as worsening academic performance. “Our nation’s students need to be in school, not used as pawns in union negotiations,” the statement said.
“LJC stands ready to vindicate the rights of parents to ensure students’ needs are put first,” the letter said.
The school district pushed for a return to in-person learning in October, citing the support from teachers, families and others in the community to reopen, despite the union’s petition to remain closed. The union claimed that the school did not meet the requirements for a safe return, which included COVID-19 tests for all staff and the installation of an air-filtration system.
Fairfax County Public Schools is the state’s largest school system, and has experienced a significant number of student withdrawals while others have fallen behind academically. More than 8,700 students in the Fairfax County school system were withdrawn from the district, marking a 5% enrollment decrease, the Washington Post reported. (RELATED: ‘We Are Breaking’: Parents Describe How Virtual Learning Has Traumatized Their Children)
BREAKING: Stunning data for Fairfax County, VA’s largest school system, shows HUGE academic cost of online learning — Fs up by 83% this year.
Vulnerable children struggling most: Fs for students w/ disabilities up by 111%, for English learners up by 106% https://t.co/wrkIy2V9k2
— Hannah Natanson (@hannah_natanson) November 24, 2020
The district also found in its own report that students were increasingly failing classes during virtual classes, a trend that disproportionately affected students with disabilities and students learning English.
NEWS ALERT: Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia is planning new grading policies to help curb the dramatic spike in students receiving failing grades during the pandemic.https://t.co/emavc6D3Li
— WTOP (@WTOP) December 12, 2020
“The pattern was pervasive across all student groups, grade levels, and content areas,” the report said.