The tragic death of George Floyd has sent the country into yet another misguided frenzy.
Following the death of George Floyd at the hands – or more accurately the foot – of a bad cop, much of the U.S. has descended into bonkersville. What talk-show host Michael Medved has labeled the “do something disease” – the instinct to respond to a societal problem by taking harsh, sweeping and irrational measures – is infecting the country at a much quicker rate than Covid-19.
After ugly rioting, deaths, destruction of businesses, and national self-flagellation, some cities have taken wrong-headed steps to ensure that a bad cop will never do his misdeeds again. Minneapolis, where Derek Chauvin tragically killed George Floyd, has decided to remove all school resource officers or campus cops from schools. The decision comes with strong backing from the city’s teachers union. In Chicago, the local teachers union and a coalition of community groups have been circulating a petition to remove police from schools. In fact, many cities, including Minneapolis, are threatening to “defund and dismantle” their city’s police forces.
Remove all police? This is similar to what we have done with Covid-19 – use a sledgehammer to solve a problem where a scalpel would have been a superior tool. One look at Derek Chauvin’s record reveals where the real problem lies. He had 18 complaints of varying intensity filed against him, all of which were dismissed with a slap on the wrist with the help of his union, the Minneapolis Police Federation. Had Chauvin worked for a private employer in a non-union setting, he would have received his walking papers years ago, and George Floyd would still be alive.
The nation’s unions are indeed in a dither on the issue; their leftist “social justice” and “Black Lives Matter” rants conflict with their basic raison d’être which is that no union member should ever lose their job for any reason. The Center for Public Integrity reached out to leaders of 10 major unions about the situation, and in sum their collective responses were, “Well, um, er, depends….” The mixed messages were palpable. For example, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said that no union contracts should shield employee misconduct, but added that focusing on collective bargaining is a “false choice.” She also claimed that we need to do something about the “militarization of police.”
Weingarten has it exactly wrong. The unions and their collective bargaining agreements are indeed the problem.
In 2017, the Washington Post reported that since 2006, “the nation’s largest police departments have fired at least 1,881 officers for misconduct that betrayed the public’s trust, from cheating on overtime to unjustified shootings. But the newspaper found that “departments have been forced to reinstate more than 450 officers after appeals required by union contracts.” To be sure some of the fired cops got a raw deal, but that a full 25 percent got their jobs back is scary. Many police union contracts include a “law enforcement bill of rights,” under which cops are obligated to answer questions only from their employers, and have the right to refuse to talk to outside police agencies.
For teachers the situation is even more outrageous. Activist and former educator Erika Sanzi points out, “The most recent report on educator sexual abuse commissioned by the Department of Education was in 2004—before the explosion of the smartphone which all experts agree has made the problem worse. In that report, we learned that 1 in 10 students is the victim of some kind of sexual misconduct by a teacher or other adult affiliated with the school.” And when other kinds of abuse and incompetence are added to the mix, that 10 percent number rises considerably.
So how many unfit teachers lose their jobs? Hardly any. In California, the collectively bargained dismissal statutes are so laborious that many administrators don’t even bother trying to navigate the 10-step process that must be taken before a dismissal is finalized. Not surprisingly, almost no tenured teacher loses their job for any reason. As pointed out during the Vergara trial in 2014, 2.2 of the state’s 300,000 teachers (0.0008 percent) are dismissed for unprofessional conduct or unsatisfactory performance in any given year. This compares to the 8 percent of employees in the private sector dismissed annually for cause.
A final question for the “do-somethingers”: If the actions of one bad cop can result in police being removed from campuses in Minneapolis and Chicago, shouldn’t it follow that the inappropriate behavior of one rogue teacher should lead to barring all educators from working in schools in those cities? After all, we have to “do something,” right?
But realistically, the best thing we can do is rein in public employee unions, which work hard to prevent any sensible reform, protect bad actors, have no accountability, and buy and sell politicians to make sure their self-serving policies remain in place. Your life could depend on it, as could your child’s future.
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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.