[guest post by Dana]
When even the Los Angeles Times says it’s time to re-open the schools…:
Schools have been reopening across the country for months now, illustrating that students can return to classrooms with little risk if the proper precautions have been taken. This is especially true of elementary schools, as younger children have been far less likely to be sickened with COVID-19 or to infect others. Reopened schools have not caused infections to surge in outlying communities.
Yet Los Angeles Unified schools — along with many other public schools statewide — have remained closed. Supt. Austin Beutner, who has been struggling with a teachers union unwilling to send educators back into classrooms, couldn’t have opened the schools anyway because the county’s infection rate was too high to meet the state’s stringent standards. But this week, that rate fell to the point where it is officially safe for all elementary schools in the county to open.
And yet Beutner, who is still embroiled in talks with the United Teachers Los Angeles, has no immediate plans to reopen.
There are no more excuses. Further delay is unacceptable.
According to the report, Beutner has been working hard to make sure that mitigation efforts are in place. This includes upgraded air filtration systems, testing and tracing protocols for staff and students, as well recommended CDC protocols being followed. Despite CDC Director Rochelle Walensky saying that it is not necessary for all teachers to be vaccinated before returning to the classroom, Beutner is working toward that goal, saying:
“We know a critical part of re-opening school classrooms will be creating the safest possible school environment. And that includes providing vaccinations to all who work in schools.”
The editorial also addresses the all-powerful teachers union in Los Angeles:
It’s not easy to go against UTLA…But at this point, the superintendent needs to put on his big-boy pants, reopen schools and demand that teachers return or risk their jobs. Union leaders in turn need to realize that not only are students done a tremendous disservice by the continued closures, but most parents vehemently want their kids back in the classroom. The union is jeopardizing its own popularity if it continues to put the needs of students and families last.
Yesterday, Politico published a report about California’s Gov. Newsom’s efforts to get the state’s schools re-opened for in-person learning:
Gov. Gavin Newsom conceded Tuesday that he has not yet struck a school reopening deal with legislators and school groups after having said it could arrive last week.
“We are making progress and it is stubborn, the negotiation, and we continue to negotiate,” Newsom said, adding that “on schools, we still have more work to do.”
“We need to get our schools safely reopened for kindergarten through sixth grade. We can do that safely,” he said on Tuesday.
The sticking point:
Vaccinations remain a key stumbling block. Teachers unions have fought for educators to have access to vaccines as a precondition for in-person learning. Newsom has argued that goal is unrealistic given finite supply and has pointed to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance saying it is safe for schools to reopen prior to full staff inoculation.
To be clear, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rochelle Walensky:
“I’m a strong advocate of teachers receiving their vaccinations, but we don’t believe it’s a prerequisite for reopening schools,” Walensky said, adding that CDC guidance stipulated that states should allow those at higher risk of serious COVID-19 infections to remain home for virtual learning until they can be vaccinated.
“We have in the guidance clear language that specifies that teachers that are at higher risk…teachers and students that are higher risk, and their families, should have options for virtual activities, virtual learning, virtual teaching,” she said.
And from Kim Anderson, head of the National Education Association:
Educators are no different [from other front-line workers], and educators need to be prioritized, not only so that we can get safely back to in-person learning as quickly as possible, but so we can see students and thus, their families, safe as well.
You can read a round-up of President Biden and his administration’s varying statements on re-opening of schools here.
I’ve come to believe that the ubiquitous catchphrase “follow the science” is little more than a political football that both sides of the aisle regularly deploy when they want to sound authoritative about their current flavor-of-the-week cause and reject when it doesn’t further their purposes. And because there is always a human element and vested interest involved with the “science,” the phrase is diminished to where it has little meaning or impact on the populace.