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Where’s Biden on Opening Schools?

Perhaps you’ve heard, a few thousand times, that the Biden Administration will listen to the science. Well, the science says schools can safely reopen, but the White House is still listening, make that bowing, to the non-scientists who run the teachers unions.

Mr. Biden has set a goal of reopening schools in his first 100 days, and the current union standoff in Chicago is his first big test. Elementary and middle school teachers there have refused to show up to classrooms as ordered. So the district has postponed reopening schools for two days. “We are practically begging [Chicago Teachers Union] to come to the table so we can get a deal done,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

No kidding. The district has surrendered to most union demands, which include allowing 5,000 or so employees to work from home because they have underlying health conditions. It has also spent $100 million on personal protective equipment, disinfectants, ventilation improvements, and portable air purifiers, and it will provide regular testing and contact tracing.

Yet now the union wants the district to let other staff work remotely if they wish and vaccinate teachers before they return to classrooms. If Chicago agrees to that, other unions would howl.

Ms. Lightfoot has been far too accommodating to the union, though she deserves credit for pushing at last to resume in-person learning. Large school districts in California including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Fresno have surrendered and are resisting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s exhortations to reopen.

“If we wait for the perfect, we might as well just pack it up,” Mr. Newsom told the Association of California School Administrators last week. “If everybody has to be vaccinated, we might as well just tell people the truth: There will be no in-person instruction in the state of California.” LA Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner responded by calling Mr. Newsom’s reopening plan “political.”

Unions say schools lack the money to reopen safely, but Chicago schools got twice as much cash as they were expecting from the last federal relief bill. K-12 schools nationwide have spent only $4.4 billion of the $67 billion they’ve received from Washington. Mr. Newsom has dangled an additional $2 billion in state funds for schools that reopen. Still no-go.

Ms. Lightfoot, Mr. Newsom and other local politicians pushing to reopen schools could use Mr. Biden’s support. Sorry, liberal mates, so far you’re on your own.

Asked last week about a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study finding that schools can safely reopen if they follow precautions, White House press secretary Jen Psaki wobbled: “The CDC hasn’t issued the formal recommendations or requirements on how all schools across the country can open. They did a report, as they do reports frequently, based on an area in Wisconsin. Important, interesting data, no doubt. But that is not reflective of every school district and community in the country.”

Translation: If Republicans want to reopen schools in their towns, fine. But we’re not going to ask unions in big urban school districts to do so. As for Mr. Biden’s virus North Star Anthony Fauci, “I would back the CDC recommendations, because that is really based on data,” the National Institutes of Health leader said. “We need to try and get the children back to school.”


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