Some Fairfax, Virginia kids and their parents are mighty lucky folks: their schools have reopened. Hooray!
But wait—it all depends on the meaning of the word “reopen.”
Robby Soave describes what it means to reopen a school nowadays:
A Fairfax, Virginia, high school has at long last reopened: Some students can now come to class two days a week, sit in desks that are six feet apart, open up their laptops, and receive virtual instruction from their teacher, who remains at home. An additional school employee—one of 800 new “classroom monitors”—sits in the classroom with the students.
Rational parents might object that such a school—Annandale High School—is not meaningfully reopened in any sense, but this is what students are being asked to live with for the foreseeable future. Under Fairfax’s reopening plans, thousands of teachers will be permitted to keep teaching from home—even if their students are back in the classroom.
So, now public employees are paid to sit in classrooms because the teachers, who, by the way, haven’t missed a paycheck, can’t be bothered to show up?
And why is it safer for classroom monitors to be in the class than it is for teachers?
The Biden administration, which professes to want to get public schools open during its first hundred days, has had a hard time getting its story straight. Vice President Kamala Harris gave such a disastrous interview about reopening schools that even NBC’s Samantha Guthrie caught on that the Veep was resorting to incoherence and boilerplate to avoid the question.
After White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki disastrously let it slip that the administration’s reopening plan doesn’t involve what any reasonable people would regard as “reopening,” President Biden felt the need to “distance” himself from his own press officer’s reply on CNN’s townhall.
Of course, we all know what is going on. The teacher unions see the pandemic as providing a bargaining chip to extract more money from government coffers and get ahead in the vaccine line. The Biden administration isn’t so far willing to push back on the teacher unions, which are a significant part of the Democratic donor base (incidentally, First Lady Jill Biden is a “proud member” of the National Education Association). The double talk doesn’t quite cover up that fact.
My colleague Andi Bottner proposed that a President Reagan might have solved the teacher union obstruction the way he solved the 1981 air traffic controllers illegal strike. “They are in violation of the law and if they do not report for work within 48 hours, they have forfeited their jobs and will be terminated,” President Reagan said. Isn’t it right, at some point, to stop paying people for jobs they refuse to do?
A Democratic president is unlikely to buck the powerful teacher unions. A school principal I know used to say that, because of the unions, it was impossible to fire a teacher no matter how bad he or she was. We see teachers on the news who butcher English grammar (sorry, I still believe in grammar) and refuse to go back to school, though we have paid them throughout this crisis. It is time to find a way to reform the teaching profession and curtail the quality of unions that have made teaching something far less than a vocation. We need to start all over.
It’s becoming quite clear that public school students in many large, urban districts will be expected to cope with a substandard classroom experience for at least the rest of 2021. Legislators in states across the country should respond by expanding school choice for families; no kid should be stuck in a classroom, masked and socially distant, receiving instructions from a remote teacher via Zoom, because there was no other option.
And nobody should let politicians change the definition of reopening to suit powerful constituents, while American students are left behind.