Schools Could Reopen Now, But Dems And Teachers’ Unions Still Resist

With Scientific Studies Showing Schools Can Safely Reopen With Precautions, Teachers’ Unions Are Still Coming Up With New Excuses Not To Return To The Classroom As Prominent Democrats Refuse To Condition School Funding On Reopening


SENATE REPUBLICAN LEADER MITCH McCONNELL (R-KY): “For months, science has confirmed that schools are remarkably safe and do not surge transmission of the virus. This Administration’s own experts amplified this before liberal politics got in the way…. [I]nstead of calling for schools to reopen right now, the President endorsed Big Labor’s moving goalposts. He said that because the Democrats passed their spending plan, and because he’s tried to move teachers toward the front of the line for vaccines, now schools can move toward re-opening. This approach has put liberal interest-group politics ahead of vulnerable kids and their parents…. Every day that the Biden Administration does not urge schools to reopen safely right now with simple precautions, it hurts kids who cannot afford these moving goalposts.” (Sen. McConnell, Remarks, 3/15/2021, Emphasis in original)

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): “In their $1.9 trillion wish list, the Democrats also wrote a big check to the teachers unions. Now, they actually didn't need the money because, in the five bipartisan coronavirus bills that we have passed in overwhelming majorities, we sent schools $113 billion .The schools haven't even spent most of that money yet. In fact, they have only spent about $16 billion of the $113 billion. There is almost $100 billion yet to spend. On top of that, the Democrats have just put up another $170 billion in their wish list. If you add it up, that is nearly $270 billion to spend with no promise--none--to reopen the schools.” (Sen. Barrasso, Congressional Record, S.1547, 3/16/2021)

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): “Our colleague from Florida, Senator Rubio, offered an amendment to incentivize a safe return to in-person learning at our Nation's schools. The crux of it was simple: If schools wanted Federal funding, they should actually educate children in the classroom and do so safely, according to CDC guidelines; otherwise, why do they need this huge amount of extra money if they are not actually going to use it to educate our children? Well, our Democratic colleagues blocked that amendment too.” (Sen. Cornyn, Congressional Record, S.1419, 3/09/2021)

SEN. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN): “Democrats certainly followed through on their campaign promise to empower teachers unions…. All 50 Democrats voted against an amendment that would have sent new funding only to schools that have followed the science and have reopened safely. You know, you would have thought that the Democrats would have at least done that for the children. But, no. In addition to saddling them with debt--another $2 trillion worth of debt--they encouraged the teachers unions to not go back to school. That vote put the power right where the Democrats want it--in the hands of the unions. And millions of students and teachers out there will continue to pay the mental and emotional price for this action.” (Sen. Blackburn, Congressional Record, S.1415, 3/09/2021)

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): “[O]ne thing that is of incredible concern is it appears that the Biden administration, which campaigned saying that they were going to follow science … seems not to be following science but to prejudice their recommendations to fit a political agenda…. [T]he science says we can safely reopen our schools now--full-time, nonhybrid--and keep them open…. Now, by the way, there is a clear agenda here. Part of the agenda is that teachers unions in certain communities have not wanted to reopen. They are more concerned about the union than they are about the children. So whether it is a Democratic mayor of Chicago trying to force the teachers union in Chicago to reopen, whether it is Los Angeles or San Diego, which are still not reopened, with teachers unions objecting to reopening there, this is not based upon science, not based upon risk to the teachers or the children. They would just rather not be at work. Isn't that amazing? … Let's safely reopen schools now. We know we can do so…. The science and the data show it. Congress had provided $68 billion before this latest bill in order to make sure we had everything we needed in order to do that. A lack of funding has not been an excuse to reopen. What is clear is a lack of will, and I will repeat where I started: This administration is betraying the most vulnerable children in our country. Reopen schools now.” (Sen. Cassidy, Congressional Record, S.1481-1482, 3/11/2021)


Experts And Experience Show Schools Could Be Open Right Now

Medical Experts: ‘Keeping Schools Closed Or Even Partially Closed, Based On What We Know Now Is Unwarranted [And] Is Harming Children,’ ‘We Now Know That A Distance Of Six Feet Is Not Significantly Safer Than Three Feet, And We Know That Six Feet Keeps Kids Out Of School Unnecessarily’

THREE INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCHERS: “We wanted to see whether the six-feet guidelines are really necessary for public health. Our multidisciplinary team of researchers compared the case rates of SARS-CoV-2 among students and staff participating in in-person learning between districts that required three feet and those requiring six feet of distancing between students. We examined the 16-week period after schools reopened this fall across Massachusetts, where there is a universal masking mandate, among various other mitigation requirements, including hand-hygiene programs, symptom screens, stay-home-when sick policies and opening windows. Our statewide study found that case rates were similar among students and staff in both types of districts; the extra three feet made no difference in terms of reported cases of viral infections. We also found that coronavirus rates among students and staff alike (at both distances) were lower than rates in the corresponding communities, suggesting that schools that require masks are a safe place for students and school staff.” (Westyn Branch-Elliman, Polly van den Berg, and Elissa Schechter-Perkins, Op-Ed, “Kids Don’t Need To Keep Six Feet Apart In Schools. Three Feet Is Just As Safe.,” The Washington Post, 3/15/2021)

FOUR MEDICAL EXPERTS: “The recent school reopening guidance released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is an example of fears influencing and resulting in misinterpretation of science and harmful policy. In the United States, about half of schools are either in person or a hybrid. President Joe Biden ran on a campaign indicating that science and data would guide his policy. As we approach the anniversary of the first COVID-19 shut down, this approach is needed more than ever, especially when it comes to schools. … The guidance does not take into account the data we have regarding little disease transmission in schools. Nor, although the guidance cites the work performed across Wisconsin districts performed by our group and published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, does it take that data and new analyses from that data set into account. Keeping schools closed or even partially closed, based on what we know now is unwarranted, is harming children, and has become a human rights issue.” (Dr. Tara O. Henderson, Dr. Monica Gandhi, Dr. Tracy Beth Hoeg, And Dr. Daniel Johnson, Op-Ed, “CDC Misinterpreted Our Research On Opening Schools. It Should Loosen The Rules Now.,” USA Today, 3/09/2021)

‘In The Seven Months Since [Opening], Florida Schools Have Avoided Major Outbreaks Of Covid-19 And Maintained Case Rates Lower Than Those In The Wider Community’

“As school districts around the U.S. continue to grapple with whether to reopen classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic, data shows Florida started in-person learning without turning schools into superspreaders. The state was one of the earliest to resume in-person instruction in August… In the seven months since, Florida schools have avoided major outbreaks of Covid-19 and maintained case rates lower than those in the wider community. Mr. Corcoran said 80% of students in Florida are now attending schools in-person full- or part-time.” (“Florida Schools Reopened Without Becoming Covid-19 Superspreaders,” The Wall Street Journal, 3/17/2021)

  • “In the last two weeks of February, the daily case rate per 100,000 people was 22 among students and 15 among school staff, compared with 27 in the community, according to the data. In earlier periods going back to October, the student and staff rates were almost always less than half the community rate. In Massachusetts and New York, which also have consistent, long-running data, student coronavirus infection rates uniformly were lower than community rates. In New York, staff rates were sometimes higher than community rates.” (“Florida Schools Reopened Without Becoming Covid-19 Superspreaders,” The Wall Street Journal, 3/17/2021)
  • “In Broward County, home to Fort Lauderdale, many children whose parents opted to keep them home struggled with remote learning in the early part of the school year, said Superintendent Robert Runcie. By December, the district had identified around 50,000 students, out of some 260,000 total, who weren’t making sufficient academic progress. After the holiday break, officials made a push to get those who were learning remotely back into classrooms, and a majority returned, said Mr. Runcie, who backed the state’s approach.” (“Florida Schools Reopened Without Becoming Covid-19 Superspreaders,” The Wall Street Journal, 3/17/2021)

‘No Covid-19 Outbreaks Have Been Traced To’ Community Learning Hubs For Schoolchildren Run By The City Of San Francisco: ‘We Were Essentially Running These Children Programs, In Some Cases, Literally Right Next To An Empty School Building’

“Public schools [in San Francisco] have been closed for a year, but about 2,400 children, many of whom are economically disadvantaged or non-native English speakers, have attended online schooling at one of 84 locations the city calls ‘community learning hubs.’ They are run by the city government, which has no direct control over schools but is spending $63 million on the program intended to replicate the pods that many affluent families across the country formed to help small groups of children attend online school. The program is in part a challenge to the policies of the San Francisco Unified School District, with which city officials have publicly fought over reopening plans.” (“San Francisco Runs Public School Pods Amid Covid-19 Lockdown Frustrations,” The Wall Street Journal, 3/18/2021)

  • “San Francisco has used its publicly-funded community-learning hubs to bolster the arguments that schools should be open already. No Covid-19 outbreaks have been traced to the hubs, according to the city government. ‘We were essentially running these children programs, in some cases, literally right next to an empty school building,’ said Dr. [Maria] Su [executive director of the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families, which oversees the San Francisco learning centers].” (“San Francisco Runs Public School Pods Amid Covid-19 Lockdown Frustrations,” The Wall Street Journal, 3/18/2021)


Democrats Claimed That Schools Could Only Start To Reopen After They Passed Their Spending Bill …

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: “[W]ith the passage of the American Rescue Plan … and my announcement last month of a plan to vaccinate teachers and school staff, including bus drivers, we can accelerate the massive, nationwide effort to reopen our schools safely and meet my goal, that I stated at the same time about 100 million shots, of opening the majority of K-8 schools in my first 100 days in office.” (President Biden, Remarks, 3/11/2021)

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): “Simply put, there’s no replacement for having kids in the classroom. We need to get our schools to re-open as quickly and as safely as possible…. In short: the American Rescue Plan will greatly accelerate the safe and effective re-opening of schools.” (Sen. Schumer, Remarks, 3/17/2021)

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D-WA), Senate HELP Committee Chair: “[T]he only way to safely reopen schools for in-person learning and keep them open is to provide the $125 billion that is included in the American Rescue Plan Act for our K-12 schools. This Federal funding will support schools in their implementing safety protocols that are aligned with local public health guidance in order to safely reopen, stay open, and help students with learning recovery.” (Sen. Murray, Congressional Record, S.1236, 3/05/2021)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), Senate Budget Committee Chairman: “Everybody in this Senate and, I assume, in the country wants our kids to get back to school. Well, you just can't open the schools unless they are safe…. Teachers are not going to teach. Childcare workers are not going to provide the care that the little ones need. And do you know what? To make those schoolrooms and school buildings safe is going to require resources …” (Sen. Sanders, Congressional Record, S.1229, 3/05/2021)


… But Democrats Also Refused To Condition That Money On Schools Returning To In-Person Instruction, With Every Senate Democrat Voting Against Doing So

ABC NEWS’ JONATHAN KARL: “Does the president support the idea of making that funding in the America Rescue Plan contingent on schools reopening? So a requirement, you receive funding, you bring students back.”
WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY JEN PSAKI: “That's not a contingency that we're putting in -- that we’re recommending to go in the bill or in legislation, Jon.” (ABC’s “This Week,” 2/21/2021)

All 50 Senate Democrats voted against the Republican amendment to ensure that school reopening dollars are going to support in-person learning, conditioning funding on schools reopening. (S.Amdt. 1026 to S.Amdt. 891, H.R. 1319, Roll Call Vote #80: Rejected 48-51: D 0-48; R 48-1; I 0-2, 3/06/2021)

And Of Course, 95% Of The Money Allocated For K-12 Schools In Democrats’ Spending Bill Would Not Even Be Distributed This Fiscal Year

CBO: “The legislation would appropriate $170.1 billion for the Department of Education mostly to make grants to states, local education agencies, and postsecondary education institutions, which would result in outlays totaling $170.1 billion over the 2021-2030 period, CBO estimates. The Congress previously provided nearly $31 billion for education stabilization in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, enacted on March 27, 2020, and another $82 billion for this purpose in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, enacted on December 27, 2020. Because most of those funds remain to be spent, CBO anticipates that the bulk of spending of funds provided in the reconciliation recommendations would occur after 2021.” (“Reconciliation Recommendations of the House Committee on Education and Labor,” Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate, 2/15/2021, p. 3)


 CBO Chart Of Dem Education Spending

(“Reconciliation Recommendations of the House Committee on Education and Labor,” Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate, 2/15/2021, p. 12)


Even With The Massive Influx Of Cash, Teachers’ Unions Are STILL Resisting Reopening Schools, Putting Forward All Kinds Of New Excuses

“[Randi] Weingarten, of the AFT, said Biden’s proposed pandemic relief would go far toward getting schools opened. But even if Congress approves it, she said, it could be months before schools receive it and make necessary fixes.” (“Reopening Debate Testing Biden’s Ties With Teachers Unions,” The Associated Press, 2/05/2021)

“The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday that the agency might revise its guidance calling for at least six feet of distancing between students in schools in areas with high coronavirus transmission. But one major stakeholder, the American Federation of Teachers, is staunchly opposed to changing the guidance now and plans to try to persuade the agency not to do so…. In an interview, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers and a close ally of President Biden, described herself as ‘very concerned’ about the possibility that the agency might change the guidance now. She said that instead of reducing distancing, districts should be finding additional space to accommodate students at six feet of distance.” (“Will Classroom Social Distancing Rules Change?,” The New York Times, 3/17/2021)

OAKLAND, CA: “A group of Oakland teachers protested a plan to bring students back to classrooms starting at the end of the month, calling an agreement between the district and their union ‘reckless and foolish’ unless staff, students and families are vaccinated. The organizers of the Wednesday protest, which included the union reps from individual schools … urged district teachers to vote against the deal, which would have the first students — in preschool through second grade — back in classrooms on March 30 …” (“Defying Union Leaders, Oakland Teachers Group Protests April Schools Reopening,” San Francisco Chronicle, 3/17/2021)

MASSACHUSETTS: “The leaders of three Massachusetts teachers unions are supporting emergency legislation filed by state lawmakers that would require the state’s education commissioner to give school districts more time to prepare for the return of elementary school students to full-time, in-person lessons. The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, and the Boston Teachers Union said the legislation would allow more school workers to get a vaccine before returning, The Boston Globe reported.” (“Teachers Unions Back Proposed Delay Of Return To Classroom,” The Associated Press, 3/15/2021)

NORTH CAROLINA: “Even as a bill to reopen schools across North Carolina garnered unanimous bipartisan support and was fast-tracked through the legislature, North Carolina’s teacher’s union released a statement blasting Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and lawmakers from both political parties for the compromise. In a rare instance of bipartisan agreement, Cooper joined with both Republican and Democratic leaders in the N.C. House and Senate at a news conference Wednesday, March 10, to unveil a new school reopening plan for the entire state. Fewer than 24 hours later, Senate Bill 220 has won unanimous support from both chambers of the General Assembly—a 49-0 vote in the Senate on Wednesday and a 119-0 vote in the House on Thursday. Cooper signed the bill into law later that day.” (“Teacher’s Union Continues Opposition Over School Reopening Law,” Carolina Journal, 3/12/2021)

  • “Even so, the left-wing N.C. Association of Educators remains opposed to the measure, putting the teacher’s union in rare opposition to Cooper, who has remained a staunch ally. ‘This agreement between the governor and leaders in the state legislature will needlessly encourage school boards to push students, educators, and staff into school buildings that do not comply with [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance during a pandemic, which has already claimed the lives of 11,000 North Carolinians,’ NCAE president Tamika Kelly said in a statement.” (“Teacher’s Union Continues Opposition Over School Reopening Law,” Carolina Journal, 3/12/2021)

SAN FRANCISCO, CA: “[T]he [SFUSD] school board approved plans to begin bringing back in-person learning for preschool through fifth-graders, special education students and vulnerable older groups starting April 12, following months of bitter debate with the teachers union…. [S]ome teachers have been critical of the plan, expressing concerns about proposed schedules that leave little time for planning lessons or bathrooms breaks. The union is organizing a car caravan for Sunday to demand changes to the daily schedule, which is separate from the formal agreement.” (“SFUSD Families And Breed To Protest, Demanding Full Reopening Of Schools For All Students,” San Francisco Chronicle, 3/12/2021)

  • “San Francisco’s school reopening deliberations have become among the most contentious of those roiling school districts across the country. Last month, the city sued the school district, arguing preparations were so slow it was violating state law. A spokesman for the city attorney said the case was moving forward because the district had no plans to reopen middle and high schools. A hearing is scheduled March 22. Parents have also mobilized against local school board members here, saying they have given too much priority to social justice matters, such as renaming school campuses, compared with resuming in-person instruction.” (“San Francisco Runs Public School Pods Amid Covid-19 Lockdown Frustrations,” The Wall Street Journal, 3/18/2021)

CHICAGO, IL: “Among those who have already received the COVID-19 vaccine are thousands of Chicago Public Schools teachers — but not nearly as many as one might think. After a bitter battle between the district and the union, why haven’t more teachers raised their hands to get the shot? The two sides cannot even agree on figuring out how many have been vaccinated. One reason is because the Chicago Teachers Union does not yet want members to tell CPS…. Another data roadblock is a letter from the CTU asking that ‘members wait to respond to (CPS’) vaccination survey.’ … [CTU President Jesse] Sharkey said another disclosure deterrent may be teachers fearful of losing their third quarter accommodations allowing them to teach from home, even though they are supposed to remain intact.” (“Number Of Vaccinated Teachers Unclear As CTU Tells Members Not To Inform CPS When They Receive COVID-19 Vaccine,” CBS 2 Chicago, 3/11/2021)

LOS ANGELES, CA: “A screenshot obtained by FOX 11 shows UTLA teachers being warned to not share spring break vacation photos to social media as the union continues to push for a safe return to in-person classes. The screenshot appears to be from a private Facebook group titled, ‘UTLA FB GROUP- Members Only,’ and it has about 5,700 members. In one of the posts from the private group, teachers from the union are being asked to not share vacation photos or show that they're traveling outside of the country. The post, obtained by FOX 11's Bill Melugin, reads: ‘Friendly reminder: If you are planning any trips for Spring Break, please keep that off of Social Media. It is hard to argue that it is unsafe for in-person instruction, if parents and the public see vacation photos and international travel.’” (“Private 'UTLA FB' Group Warns Teachers To Not Post Vacation Pics Amid Union's Push For Safe Return To Class,” Fox 11, 3/08/2021)



Related Issues: Education, COVID-19, Senate Democrats