On February 27, a 45 second clip featuring Berkeley Federation of Teachers (BFT) president Matt Meyer and his daughter walking into a private preschool was published on YouTube by an anonymous group of Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) parents entitled Guerilla Momz. Meyer is currently leading the teachers union’s efforts to prevent a return to in person school before all teachers are vaccinated, a stance which directly opposes parent groups such as Guerilla Momz. The video has attracted a variety of attention and controversy: some see Meyer’s choice to bring his daughter to an in-person school as hypocritical, while others view the video as an invasion of privacy. Since its posting, the video has amassed over 200,000 views, and the story has been reported by national news outlets.
Matt Meyer’s Actions Showcase Hypocrisy
Meyer, as an elected representative of the teachers’ union, is a public figure whose decisions have wide reaching effects all over Berkeley. When you voluntarily become a public figure, whether it be the police chief, mayor, or in this case the president of the teachers’ union, you also expose yourself to the public eye. Despite what many have said, the criticisms are not an attack on Meyer’s daughter but rather an attack on the morality of his decision making process. Just as he deserves credit when his union makes good decisions, like lobbying to increase teachers’ pay, he likewise deserves criticism when his union makes decisions that contradict the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and the opinions of healthcare professionals. When a politician like Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley objects to election results claiming their “constituents had questions” even if they themselves knew the results to be legitimate, it’s entirely reasonable to criticize them, even if they’re just representing their constituents.
If Meyer actually believed in the necessity of many Berkeley parents’ demands, he would not be sending his child to in-person school. Meyer has defended the teachers’ position on elementary school reopenings by making the false claim that younger children would be unable to follow mask-wearing guidelines, while his daughter is required to do so every single day at the preschool she attends. To those who argue Meyer had no public choice in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) where he lives, it should be recognized that preschool is neither a necessity nor a right for parents, while grade school indeed is. Meyer sends his child to preschool presumably because he needs childcare during the day, which is absolutely an understandable need, but he has not allowed others who cannot afford in-person private school the same opportunity.
Fundamentally, this video showcases that Meyer is incapable of understanding parents’ pleas for a return because he himself does not have to face the consequences of the actions he represents. Why is it that he cares so much about teacher safety and stopping the spread of COVID-19 when it’s others’ kids going to school, but doesn’t care when it’s his own? Parents will not be able to get any empathy from Meyer because he simply does not have the same struggle as them. It’s a situation much like if a politician cuts funding for his school district and then pulls his child out and puts them into private education. Just this last week, the entire prospect of raising the federal minimum wage to $15 was essentially struck down by a Senate who’s average net worth is far above one million dollars. These politicians need not understand or think about the people they hurt with their actions because their own families don’t have to feel the impact. The people of Berkeley need to hold those in positions of power accountable when they make decisions that negatively affect their constituents, and if the best way to do so is to videotape them taking their daughter to school and posting it on Twitter, so be it.
Singling Out Meyer and Daughter Amidst BUSD Reopening is Unjustified
Every parent wants to provide their child with the highest quality education, but what this looks like for a toddler is very different from what it looks like for a teen. Criticisms of Matt Meyer for bringing his child to an in-person preschool are unfounded, and the publication of a video of him and his two-year-old as a tactic to accelerate the return to in-person learning is dishonorable.
First, Meyer sending his child to private preschool is in no way the same issue as the stance that a public school district with nearly 10,000 people should not reopen yet. Private schools are operating with an entirely different set of tools and funds, including increased access to testing and smaller student bodies. Consequently, private schools have had vastly different approaches to reopening than public schools. Inequities in the education system are real, but they do not fall upon Matt Meyer to solve. The difference in scale between a single preschool and all of BUSD is massive, and means that the preschool can reopen with smaller class sizes, larger teacher to student ratios, more ability to be outdoors, and altogether a greater capacity for a safe return. Furthermore, OUSD, Meyer’s daughter’s school district, does not offer public preschools. The only schooling options available to her were private and in person. Thus, if Meyer needed childcare for his daughter, it would be a private, in-person preschool, which is extremely different from the entire Berkeley public school district.
Secondly, as the head of the teacher’s union, Meyer is the voice of BUSD teachers, and this position deserves separation from Meyer’s parenting and personal life. Although he was elected by BFT, he is not an elected Berkeley public official. Meyer is simply a person (and a parent) who dedicates a great deal of work in an unpaid position to advocate for people in arguably the most crucial profession in our society. Additionally, he is not the one thing in the way of schools reopening — BUSD is in the midst of working through the complicated logistics of a return to school that will appease the combatting preferences of BUSD parents. Just because he is the representative of BFT, and the person who must communicate teachers’ valid concerns about going back to school before being vaccinated, he should not have to explain and justify his toddler’s schooling to the world.
Lastly, this method of making a statement goes too far. In a statement to KQED, Meyer said that he felt people following him and his daughter was “super inappropriate.” Filming a paparazzi-style video of a father and daughter is an insensitive invasion of privacy, especially coming from a group of parents who refrain from revealing their own identities to avoid hate towards them or their children. These parents understand the gravity of being called out alongside your child in national news. Additionally, the post on social media has led to a number of unwarranted personal attacks to both Meyer and his daughter. In the Twitter replies to the Guerilla Momz’s initial post with the YouTube link, users called for the immediate disbandment of all teachers unions and the firing of teachers that won’t return to school, claimed that teachers are in it for money and power (which is so absurd it doesn’t need explaining), and criticized Meyer’s parenting. This was absolutely not the way for these parents to go about voicing their concerns, and it’s difficult to sympathize with those who will follow a parent and child into a preschool.
Ultimately, everyone wants the best for their child in these undoubtedly trying times. However, this looks very different for a two-year-old in a private preschool than for, say, a BUSD middle schooler. Waging a Guerilla Momz war on a parent and child is not a productive or mature response to the frustration parents and students may feel about online school. As plans for a return to in-person learning begin to take shape, it shouldn’t be necessary to say that teachers are not the enemy amidst this global pandemic. Cooperation and understanding are required for what will be a complicated reintegration process to normal learning, all in the effort of providing the best possible experiences to Berkeley students.