PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: “We hope that most schools are going to be open. We don’t want people to make political statements or do it for political reasons. They think it’s going to be good for them politically so they keep the schools closed, no way. So we’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools. It’s very important for our country. It’s very important for the wellbeing of the student and the parents so we’re going to be putting a lot of pressure on open your schools in the Fall.”
Kids should be in school — you may have thought this was a debate that was settled conclusively in the 19th century, when we banned 8-year-olds from working in factories. Parents certainly agree with it. They want their children back in the classroom in September. Every poll shows that. Most kids and teachers probably feel the same way.
So, who exactly is opposed? Take a guess: the teachers’ unions. Their position on every question is straightforward: they’d like less work and accountability, and much more pay. At least one chapter of the American Federation of Teachers is planning a strike if they have to go to work this fall.
Many administrators have no choice but to obey their demands. In Miami-Dade county, one of the country’s largest school systems, superintendent Albert Carvalho warns that his schools could stay closed in the fall:
“I will not reopen our school system on August 24th if the conditions are what they are today. Our reopening plan contemplates a phase two reality. We are still in phase one. A phase one that has degraded over the past few weeks.”
Many schools that do plan to reopen, will do so under a series of bizarre restrictions that have no basis in science. It’s a kind of bizarre health theater: Students will be kept six feet apart, universal mask wearing, limits on classroom size, etcetera. In Washington state, education officials are considering letting students back to school on the basis of their race: Non-white kids get to return first, while white students will be ordered to stay home until the virus subsides. Didn’t Brown versus Board of Education ban policies like that 65 years ago? You thought so.
The teachers unions claim this is all about public health. Today, a union in Chicago retweeted this self-righteous little fortune cookie. Quote: “Educators would much rather be with our students in person BUT our number one responsibility is to keep our students safe.”
What a lie. There’s only one way for educations to help students right now: teach them in person. Reopen. “Distance learning” isn’t learning. When Los Angeles schools checked the participation in distance learning, they found exactly what you’d expect: on any given day, a third of students never logged in at all. Two-thirds of teachers reported that students were less likely to complete assignments once distance learning began. And according to one body of research, students who’ve been learning online will lose far more of their knowledge over the summer than they usually do.
So no, distance learning isn’t the same. As you know well if you have kids in school. Parking students in front of a computer screen is no substitute for school. At lot is at stake here — more than just the accumulation of knowledge. Two weeks ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommended reopening schools in the fall. The group noted that keeping children at home isolates them, and increases the risk of depression and suicide. It also prevents teachers from noticing and reporting the physical and sexual abuse of children, abuse that is almost certainly more frequent for children unable to leave home.
For children, the risks of staying locked at home are high. The risks from the Coronavirus are not. The virus is deadly to the very old, and those who are already sick. To children, and the vast majority of young and middle-aged adults, it poses virtually zero threat. For children, it’s far less deadly than the flu. In fact, if lockdowns cause just a one percent increase in teenage suicides, that will be a higher death toll than all coronavirus deaths among high schoolers, nationwide. And in fact, we have reason to believe lockdowns boosted suicides far more than one percent.
Nor are children a significant risk to spread the virus to others. A Swiss study found that among infected children, viral loads are low, making it very difficult for them to spread the disease. Children are much more likely to get the virus from their parents, rather than the other way around.
Other countries realize this. In Germany, in early May, four major medical associations all called for the immediate reopening of the country’s schools and daycare centers. And they called for reopening without restrictions: No dividing children into small groups, no masks, no social distancing.
In Australia, the country’s deputy chief medical officer, Nick Coatsworth, published an open letter to the public in May making the same point. Quote: “COVID-19 is not the flu. Far fewer children are affected by COVID-19, and the number of transmissions from children to children and children to adults is far less. As an infectious diseases specialist, I have examined all of the available evidence from within Australia and around the world and, as it stands, it does not support avoiding classroom learning as a means to control COVID-19.” End quote.
Doctors around the world understand this. Sweden never closed primary schools or daycares at all. Their coronavirus outbreak has been no worse than ours. Austria, Finland, Norway, and Singapore have all reopened schools. None have seen an explosion of cases linked to schools. In Denmark, schools have been open since late April. Masks were not required. But the number of infected children hasn’t grown. It’s steadily declined.
This isn’t opinion. It’s actual science. There’s an overwhelming amount of it. Coronavirus is not deadly to children. Sending them to school won’t spread it. Keeping them home hurts children, and everybody else. Schools must open.
Nothing affects ordinary people’s lives more than this. Without schools returning to normal, millions of American parents will not be able to return to work, even as we descent into recession. Millions more will be ordered to work two jobs: Their own, and the one teachers are refusing to do, but still getting paid for. Yet instead of sympathizing, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten rejoices. According to Weingarten, employers should adjust work schedules to accommodate new work schedules for teachers:
Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers President: “A lot of employers would actually follow what the schools people are doing and adjust schedules. We should never be pitting parents against teachers or kids’ needs against parents’ needs to work. I think employers would be very open to it.”
This is lunacy. It’s not rational. It’s hysteria. It’s political, too. America’s teachers unions are some of the most stridently partisan organizations in the country. This is an election year. They believe more chaos and displacement will help them win. That’s sick. These are people who will destroy anything for more power. Unfortunately that includes hurting your children.