President Biden made an early pandemic show by promising that a majority of American schools would reopen in his first 100 days in office. But (last week) we learned that this depends on the meaning of the word “reopen.”
“His goal that he set is to have the majority of schools, so more than 50 percent, open by day 100 of his presidency and that means some teaching in classrooms,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Feb. 9. “So at least one day a week.”
One day out of five? We doubt that’s how working parents define open.
Ms. Psaki is trying to make a virtue out of a humiliating political embarrassment. Mr. Biden figured that his support for the teachers union agenda, along with more money, would get the unions to reopen the schools. Instead he’s discovering what America’s parents have learned in the last year: Unions run the schools, and no one—not parents, not school districts, not mayors, and not even a new Democratic President—will tell them what to do. So it’s one day a week, pal. Get used to it.
This really is one of the great scandals of the pandemic. At first unions demanded that cases drop in their cities before schools open. Now cases are falling almost everywhere. So unions are insisting that teachers must be vaccinated before returning.
Take Chicago, where elementary and middle schools were supposed to reopen last week—until the union called a de facto strike. On Feb. 10 the Chicago Teachers Union ratified an agreement to return to schools in March. But teachers, who will be prioritized for vaccines, won’t have to return to classrooms if they have an underlying medical condition or live with someone who does.
Most teachers may be able to apply for an exemption. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent of people in Cook County have a chronic condition. The agreement also requires in-person instruction to be “paused” for 14 days if a single child in a school tests positive for Covid. All of this means most kids will be stuck learning remotely for the rest of the school year.
Or look at San Francisco, where the teachers union and district agreed over the weekend to reopen schools once all teachers are vaccinated. Mayor London Breed said Feb. 9 this means schools won’t reopen this year. “We have to do better. We have to think about these children,” she said. Maybe next year.
Incredibly, San Francisco’s school board and union hadn’t even considered a plan to reopen schools for nearly 11 months. Last week the city finally sued the school board to force it to come up with a reopening plan. ...
A University of Pennsylvania study estimates that each month of school closures costs students between $12,000 and $15,000 in future earnings. The earnings hit will be greatest for minority and poor children in cities. Private and suburban schools that aren’t controlled by unions have managed to reopen safely, though not because they have more money.
Congress last year appropriated $68 billion in Covid relief for K-12 schools, but they have spent only $4 billion. Although parochial schools enroll large numbers of low- and middle-income kids, they have been mostly excluded from federal relief funds. Now Democrats in Congress plan to send public schools another $130 billion—whether they open or not.
If Mr. Biden really wants to lead, he’d use his bully pulpit to say school districts that don’t reopen classrooms won’t get the money. Instead we get Ms. Psaki defining classroom instruction down. This ridiculous standard for success is what George W. Bush once called the soft bigotry of low expectations.