A lot of elected officials and school administrators are saying the right things about avoiding any further pandemic-driven closures of school in the coming weeks and months. Yesterday on Fox News Sunday, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said, “our expectation is for schools to be open full-time for students, for in-person learning. We remember the impact of school closures on students last year.”
“We recognize that there may be some bumps in the road, especially this upcoming week when superintendents who are working really hard across the country are getting calls saying that some of their schools may have 5 to 10 percent of their staff not available,” Cardona continued. “But the goal is full time in-person learning for our students. They’ve suffered enough.”
It is worth noting that the Covid relief bill passed in early 2021, a.k.a. the American Rescue Plan, allocated $130 billion “to support the safe reopening of K–12 schools.” Taxpayers and parents can reasonably expect that after allocating $130 billion to keep schools open, then schools would be open . . . particularly after vaccination became available for everyone over age five.
And yet, this week, more than 2,100 schools plan to be closed, and that was separate from the closures forced by the arrival of a big winter storm in the South and mid-Atlantic. (Here in Fairfax County, the first day of public school since December 17 was canceled for snow — a real snow, with several inches accumulating and heavy snow during what would be the usual morning rush hour. But Fairfax County just canceled for tomorrow, too, apparently convinced that there’s no way the roads could possibly be cleared within 24 hours.)
Once again, certain teachers’ unions are insisting that it’s just too dangerous to keep schools open. The Massachusetts Teachers Association wanted the state to use today as a Covid-19 testing day and evaluate the opening of schools from there. (The state rejected the request.) A typo-filled letter from the Arlington Education Association objected to the scheduled reopening of schools today. Chicago teachers are expected to vote Tuesday on whether to defy Chicago Public Schools’ orders to return to classrooms this week.
The month of January usually brings snow and wintry mix to a lot of American communities, and you can’t help but wonder if some school administrators will attempt to placate the teachers’ unions by pulling the trigger on snow days at the slightest justification. Closures because of the Omicron variant are controversial, hotly disputed, and opposed by no less an authority than Dr. Anthony Fauci. But almost no one objects to snow days. School administrators can always claim the snowfall was less than they expected or the forecast suggested. In fact, the Massachusetts teachers’ union explicitly compared closing the schools because of Omicron to the familiar closures for snow. “We recognize that delaying some students’ return to school poses challenges for families. But if there were a blizzard on Sunday evening, nobody would question the wisdom of declaring Monday a snow day,” Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy said Friday.
But there’s a difference between a blizzard and Omicron. And it’s particularly galling to declare it’s impossible to open schools safely, after the federal government spent $130 billion to ensure schools could remain open and safe!
Here in Fairfax County, I notice students have off January 17 for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 21 for a teacher work day, and January 24 for a “staff development day.” And that’s separate from any more snow days besides the two this week.
Kids may end up missing a lot of school days this month, and school administrators may choose to blame the weather — when they’re really afraid of making a decision that the teachers’ unions oppose.
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