, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Intelligent public policy is all too often undermined by policy makers incapable of properly assessing risks. The Biden Administration is setting new standards in this regard with its so-called “return to school” effort. It’s difficult to know how much of it is sheer stupidity and how much is pandering to teachers unions. Equal parts is probably a reasonable approximation.

The public teachers unions have consistently opposed reopening since remote learning began last spring, despite reams of data showing the safety of school environments. Even the CDC agrees! Oh, but wait: the CDC just issued new guidelines for reopening, which among other things require six feet of distancing rather than the three feet Director Rochelle Walensky claimed was adequate just a few months ago. Obviously, this reduces the number of students many existing school buildings can accommodate.

COVID transmission in schools is “extremely rare”. And in addition, remote education is sorely lacking in effectiveness. Teachers who truly care about educating their students should be giving the unions an earful. Not only has learning been compromised, but remote learning has increased the achievement gap between the best students and those in the lower part of the distribution.

Private schools have been open and as the map above shows, public schools in a number of states are largely open to in-person learning. Where that’s not the case, public school buildings are often still being used by children. They’re under the supervision of adults, but not teachers! As Matt Welch says:

“… many of the empty school buildings in largely closed districts are not in fact empty—they are filled with kids, being supervised by adults, just not adults who belong to teachers unions.

Incidentally, many adults with children now at home, rather than in school, have been forced to leave the labor force, and many of them are women. As Michael Watson asks, why are advocates of working women so silent on this point? And this is to say nothing of the health care workers diverted, during a pandemic, from patient care by the need to manage children at home.

In December, Joe Biden promised to reopen “most” K – 12 schools within his first one-hundred days in office. Shortly after his inauguration, that promise became “most” K – 8 schools. As Welch notes, now the goal has been made a bit more precise, and it’s a complete sham: the Administration wants at least half of schools to be “open” for in-person learning at least one day a week! But we’re already well ahead of that! (And see here.)

On top of that, the federal government is playing the interloper here: reopening is not a federal decision. Ah, but Biden wants $130 billion in federal money earmarked to aid schools in their reopening efforts. Anthony Fauci has decided the stimulus is necessary for schools to reopen, his latest in a series of embarrassing policy flip-flops. The funds targeted at schools would be spent in a variety of ways, including PPE, COVID tests, new ventilation systems, and enhancement of remote learning to accommodate smaller (and distanced) in-person class sizes. Some of the funds are likely to make their way into teacher pay and to shore up pensions. One thing is certain: the unions want that money, and they will come back for more!

The unions also argue that teachers should be prioritized for vaccines, which would place them ahead of groups facing drastically higher risks. This is flat-out callous, insane, and evil. Again, the risk of COVID to teachers and children is low, while the elderly population faces staggeringly higher risks. Vaccinating teachers ahead of the elderly would cost many thousands of lives on balance.

This article from Education Next by Darrell Bradford describes the conditions for reopening demanded by teachers unions as the culmination of several years of activism. The unions contributed mightily to Joe Biden’s election campaign, of course. Their overwrought posture on teacher safety aside, the unions’ obstinance on the question of reopening is intended as leverage in the legislative push for Biden’s school aid package. Here’s Bradford:

In other words, if you’ve wondered what a national teacher strike might look like and what might cause teachers across the country to arrest local economies and subject millions of students to instruction that may lock in deep learning losses, it’s just like this.

The schools are safe, remote learning is substandard, and isolation is damaging to children’s’ emotional well being. Union demands for continuing limitations on in-person learning and requirements for reopening are not just unreasonable, but dastardly. That the Biden Administration is crafting its reopening policy and spending initiatives to appease the unions is motivated more by politics than the interests of children and their families. It’s time for parents and other true advocates to let their school administrators, elected representatives, and government officials know that the unions do not have their children’s interests at heart. And well-informed teachers should demand that their union representatives stop playing politics with the educational goals to which they’ve devoted their careers.