DANIEL VAUGHAN: Republicans need to nationalize and run on reopening schools

When the 2022 midterms elections roll around, the Republican Party should be doing its best to drill this point into the heads of the American people: The Democratic Party unabashedly stands for school closures and lockdowns.

Democrats are all for increased school inequities, where poorer children fall behind the rich. Indeed, Democrats oppose school choice of any kind, even amid COVID-19. And worst of all, when the science said schools were safe despite the pandemic, Democrats rejected the science and went with the whims of teachers unions.

This talking point can no longer be a local one. It must be nationalized by the GOP, and Democrats everywhere have to either attack or defend their own side for talking about keeping schools closed.

Nationalizing the issue means every Republican talks about and hammers the point, painting the Democratic Party as one that went with teachers unions over students.

If you live in a state run by a Republican, you may be surprised this is still a live issue. But it is. Over the weekend, White House adviser Anita Dunn walked back the Biden administration’s support of reopening schools in an appearance on CNN, saying that the promise wasn’t “absolute” because the coronavirus is “unpredictable.”

It’s entirely fair to call the COVID-19 pandemic unpredictable. But it’s not fair to use that in connection to schools.

The school closures in early March 2020 were fair because we didn’t know what we were dealing with at the time. We didn’t have strong evidence of how COVID-19 impacted children or whether kids spread the virus at higher rates than other demographics.

School closures are a standard containment practice when, for example, the flu gets out of control in a school system. But since then, we’ve learned a lot.

We’ve known since last fall, for example, that schools are not superspreader sites and do not contribute to community spread in a meaningful way. School safety goes beyond that, though. As Derek Thompson at The Atlantic notes, there’s very little threat to the health of children, too:

Research from around the world has, since the beginning of the pandemic, indicated that people under 18, and especially younger kids, are less susceptible to infectionless likely to experience severe symptoms, and far less likely to be hospitalized or die.

That means we have two sets of good news here: first, the virus isn’t a threat to children, and second, those children are not threats to their communities when it comes to spreading the disease. So let’s repeat this for everyone, including the people in the back of the room: schools do not spread the virus.

That’s the science. That’s the data. Everything from the research and data we’ve collected is clear and unambiguous on those points. But just as it’s clear COVID-19 isn’t a threat to children, it’s equally clear that remote or hybrid learning is a complete and utter disaster.

Remote learning has resulted in school systems marking far more incompletes and failing grades than before. And this shouldn’t be a shocker. As the Wall Street Journal reported last summer:

School districts closed campuses in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic and, with practically no time at all for planning or training, launched a grand experiment to educate more than 50 million students from kindergarten through 12th grade using technology.

Neither teachers nor school systems were prepared, trained, or capable of educating this many children in a remote setting. And even if they were, 1 in 5 students don’t have access to the technology that would enable them to be educated remotely. And for some parents, particularly single parents, it’s near-impossible to ensure to provide at-home oversight of schooling. At the same time, a work schedule has its own demands.

If you’re a student in a Democratic-run state or city, where teachers unions have fought to keep things closed, you’ve had to bear the brunt of the idiocy.

Chicago teachers unions have refused to reveal who got a vaccine in their negotiations with the city. After demanding teachers get treated with higher priority, they refuse to say whether they’re vaccinated. Washington, D.C., meanwhile, had to sue its teachers unions to prevent them from striking to avoid work.

Republicans should nationalize these stories and either pressure Democrats to defend the unions and Democratic mayors or force the Democratic Party to attack its own.

If Democrats turn on their own, Republicans win. But suppose Democrats support the insane and unscientific behavior of one of their key interest groups. In that case, Republicans still control the winning position on an explosive issue. 

Every Democrat across the country should be forced to answer for what happens in Chicago, Washington, or anywhere else where unions exert influence. When we hit the 2022 elections, voters should be thinking about how Democrats betrayed their children on the issue of reopening schools.

Because at this point, vaccines aren’t a sticking point. At the end of last week, the CDC’s tracker said that more than 300 million vaccines had been delivered nationwide. Private businesses are accepting walk-ins to be vaccinated now.

The pandemic is over as a public health crisis. If you don’t want the vaccine, then you cannot say that schools should remain closed over the fear of a virus.

The end of the pandemic is here, and Republicans should force Democrats to answer on schools.