There never was evidence or scientific data that in-person schooling presented an elevated virus threat for students, faculty, or staff warranting schools’ prolonged closure – no evidence whatsoever. In fact, it was clear even before the traditional school year’s start that children and young adults were far less likely to be infected with COVID or to be severely impacted if they became infected.
So, was the response by teachers’ unions and bureaucratic school administrators to reopen but with common-sense health and safety measures in place, so students were not kept away from teachers, classmates, and all the other benefits in-school learning provides? Of course not. Their response was to put on blinders, ignore common sense and hard evidence, and remain...closed.
There does now seem to be a glimmer of hope that this close-mindedness is softening slightly. The New York City public school system, for example, plans to open soon for in-person classes, at least for elementary students. The timing of this about-face, and whether it actually will remain in-place, are questions still on the table, and parents should continue to demand to know why it took the teachers and school administrators so long to admit what everyone else knew months ago. Even more important, parents should demand accountability, including firing teachers and bureaucrats for the waste of money caused by their bad decisions, and for the damage inflicted on the students as a result.
Waiting for any apology by those self-serving public officials would be a waste of time. As with other fear-driven public policy decisions made in response to the pandemic, refusals to open schools for in-person teaching were nothing more than partisan footballs to be kicked around by the National Education Association and its state affiliates, hoping President Trump and Republican governors who wanted to open schools sooner rather than later would look foolish.
Students, not politicians, of course, have been the real victims in this debacle, as partisan politics overrode their interests and those of their parents, many of whom struggled to keep their jobs while overseeing children forced to stay at home “learning” in front of a computer screen.
The problems resulting from this partisan short-sightedness are not trivial. It is estimated that delayed school openings this year will cost the average student seven months of learning; even more for black students and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. For all the pre-COVID talk about how increased school funding is needed to close the “educational gap” between students from poor and wealthy backgrounds, the decision to keep schools closed will cause lasting, if not permanent, damage to students who already are the most disadvantaged. This problem has been well-known in academic circles, but in the current context is simply ignored by Democrat school administrators and unionized teachers because it does not fit their partisan agenda.
Now, when outrage from parents can no longer be easily ignored and scientific evidence has become so obvious it, too, cannot be ignored, some Democrats are grudgingly moving to reopen schools – a decision they should have made months ago, yet for which they expect to be lauded by parents and the public at large for finally doing something right. Of course, the mainstream media rushes to provide that adoration, as in blessing New York Gov. Cuomo with an Emmy for his objectively bad – if not criminally negligent -- handling of the pandemic when it hit the Empire State earlier this year.
Fawning praise, however, will only encourage these Johnny-come-latelies to continue making decisions based not on hard evidence, common sense, and the best interests of their constituents, but on partisan political calculations masquerading as “public policy.”
It will be interesting to see whether these public school administrators and teachers will assent to receive a COVID vaccine when it becomes available (probably before the end of this month), or will refuse because, after all, the vaccines have been developed in record time thanks to the Trump Administration’s project “Warp Speed.” Sad it will be, however, if these public “servants,” both hired and elected, cause further harm to their fellow citizens by impeding their ability to receive the vaccine.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and was the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990. He served as an official with the CIA during the 1970s.