Vaccinations for teachers, which began on Monday, mean there’s no argument left for closing down schools. Many elementary classrooms reopened full time in December, and they should stay that way. The rest of the education system must follow suit: no more lame excuses.
The case for continuing to keep students glued to their screens, suffering through the farce of virtual learning, was always a weak one. Studies have repeatedly shown that schoolchildren are not a significant source of COVID-19 spread; the risk of transmission to teachers seems mercifully minimal.
In September, a study by Brown University found that many schools around the country had lower coronavirus transmission rates than their surrounding communities. Data from Florida schools that reopened in the fall found almost no spread between students and teachers. Universities — where students live, sleep and party in large numbers — have played host to a number of superspreader events, but America’s K-12 system is relatively safe as long as some basic safety measures (masks, desk spacing) are followed.
But try explaining that to the teachers unions, which have fought tooth and nail to keep schools closed for as long as possible. The United Federation of Teachers has pressured New York City officials to send students home when the city’s test positivity rate climbs too high. Back in September, New York City teachers engaged in a coordinated “work out” to oppose the city’s reopening plans.
Teachers unions in other cities have practiced similar tactics — in Washington, DC, they even dropped fake body bags in front of district headquarters as part of an effort to spook Mayor Muriel Bowser into postponing her reopening plans. Sure enough, the mayor backed down.
Some teachers have suggested that they shouldn’t have to go back until it’s 100 percent safe — i.e., never.
Chicago schools are hiring 2,000 classroom “aides” to cover for all the teachers who don’t plan to actually do their jobs anytime in the near future.
This is madness, and it must end. Students have waited long enough to go back to school. As many private schools have reopened, what’s become painfully obvious is that the teachers unions’ campaign to shut down in-person education has disproportionately punished kids who rely on public education. Many of these students come from struggling homes and were already disadvantaged. Their parents are working to put food on their tables and don’t have time to set up their kids’ laptops or make sure they log on for classes. Many such families relied upon schools to provide day care.
The pandemic has widened the gap between those students and their peers — and every month that school remains virtual, they are falling further behind.
Thankfully, widespread vaccination should bring the pandemic under control over the next few months. But kids can’t wait any longer: They need to go back to school. It’s essential for them, and safe for their teachers.
Robby Soave is a senior editor of Reason.