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Remember the good old days, when the issue of reopening schools to full-time, in-class instruction was about COVID? It’s not about helping people avoid contracting the novel coronavirus any longer.
Now it’s about saving them from . . . mold. And asthma. And other conditions that have nothing whatever to do with COVID and everything to do with coming up with reasons why schools should remain closed until teachers unions decide it’s all right for their members to go back to doing what teachers have done since the days of ancient Athens — instruct their charges in person. Face to face.
Professional education journalists and Democratic politicians shift the goalposts daily, to make it harder and more complicated, not easier, to get kids back in a classroom with a teacher in front of them.
Case in point: The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss, who archly informs us that “many schools were not healthy environments for human beings before the pandemic. In too many places, this is the ordinary: crumbling buildings, unhealthy air quality, bugs and rodents, mold, broken or nonexistent air conditioning and heaters, nonfunctioning toilets, etc. If you don’t think that takes a daily toll on everybody inside a school, guess again.”
By The Washington Post’s lights, before we can reestablish the central precept that most kids need to learn in a school, we must address ancillary health concerns that have nothing whatsoever to do with COVID-19.
Team Biden is part of the problem. After she said flatly on Feb. 3 that “there is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen,” newly minted Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky was taken to the woodshed by her White House bosses. She came back chastened with new “guidance” that just moved the goalposts to higher standards of cleanliness beyond the virus.
Walensky told reporters: “We very much advocate for another layer of mitigation to be improved ventilation. And that is not just really for COVID-19, but that is for many other things, that public health things that will improve when we improve ventilation in our school, including things like asthma and exposure to mold.”
Note carefully: This is guidance that’s “not just really for COVID-19.” Once again, all we should be discussing at this moment is the necessity or lack thereof of the emergency declarations that sent tens of millions of American kids into their bedrooms to try and learn somehow through Zoom.
Such moves need to be ended the minute the overwhelming crisis has passed.
We shouldn’t be trying to mitigate asthma right now. We shouldn’t be trying to limit exposure to mold. We should be trying to save a generation from illiteracy, ignorance and existential despair.
But why should we care about the students, when what we really need to do is empower the “stakeholders” in education? At the same news conference where Walensky spelled out the guidance she herself would likely have classified as dilatory nonsense a month earlier, a new Department of Education official named Donna Harris-Aikens took to the podium to discuss the process by which the guidance was developed.
“We have talked to a variety of stakeholders,” Harris-Aikens said, “and look forward to continuing our robust engagement with all sorts of stakeholders, not only in the school community but in the community at large. That includes superintendents, principals, civil-rights groups and all sorts of other folks.”
I was unaware that “civil-rights groups” are specialists in the science of disease transmission — which is, I want to point out again, the sole basis on which any of these decisions should be made. That we have moved beyond the data into the realm of the special-interest wish list should be galling to everyone who expressed indignation at the way the Trump administration was supposedly elevating politics over science.
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