As the debate heats up on how to safely reopen U.S. schools while containing the coronavirus, right-wing media appear ready to promote anything but spending the money that’s needed to do the job right — and they will blame teachers for raising the issues.
An article from Science magazine explored many of the complex issues surrounding potential school reopening. For example, younger children appear to be less likely both to contract the virus and to spread it, and the risks go up by age group. (This must also be balanced against students’ frequent contacts with teachers, who may have personal health issues or family members who do.) It is also clear that prolonged school closures are proving unsustainable, with virtual learning falling far short of the in-person experience and children being exposed to a variety of social ills.
Vox’s Matt Yglesias writes of two proposed models to build up confidence in the education system: an intense focus on “mass surveillance testing,” and also the potential hiring of more staff (such as college-age recruits taking a gap year) to supervise children after a half-day schedule. But Yglesias adds that any measure to return to normalcy “would require work and leadership” to change the existing regulatory structures — and a lot more public money, too.
President Donald Trump, however, is not one for dealing with these subtle problems, tweeting on Wednesday:
Trump also tweeted that he disagreed with the guidelines for reopening schools from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which have involved such measures as staggered class times and enforced social distancing. (The CDC already appears to be backing down and preparing to issue new recommendations next week.)
What Trump might not want to acknowledge is that many of the countries that reopened their schools also put such measures in place as frequent testing and various mask regulations. Furthermore, a key problem here is that public confidence in containing the virus in schools may well be tied to controlling the virus in society at large — a task at which America is now failing in comparison to the rest of the developed world, with experts abroad saying that “the U.S. has given up.” Only Sweden, one of the countries that Trump cited as a positive example of school openings, seems to be doing worse than the United States among developed countries.
But it’s also becoming clear that right-wing media are looking at a new target to blame: the teachers, and teachers unions, for demanding that the government spend so much money on the needed safety precautions.
A week ago, The Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece by Daniel DiSalvo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a professor of political science at the City College of New York, titled “Will Unions Let Schools Reopen?” The piece claimed that declining public revenues and fiscal pressure on teachers’ pensions — another issue area that conservatives have sought to exploit in the crisis — “will drive the teachers unions to oppose reopening schools—while claiming the moral high ground of student safety.”
And, of course, DiSalvo warned about calls for more money:
Teachers unions will seek to block any cuts, especially layoffs, salary freezes, and increased employee pension contributions. Unions are asking for additional funds to reopen schools on top of the $13.5 billion provided by the Cares Act. On June 10, the AFT demanded an additional $117 billion in federal money. Without this, the union said, “school buildings will stay shuttered and America’s families will endure another academic year of at-home learning.”
School districts are also asking for more money and warning state governments that without it they will not be able to reopen. Recently, school superintendents from Los Angeles, San Diego, Long Beach, Oakland, Sacramento and San Francisco wrote to California’s elected officials that any budget cuts will keep schools closed even after “clearance from public health officials is given.”
And on the July 7 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, the eponymous Fox News host delivered a very lengthy opening monologue that laid the blame for delays in school reopenings purely at the feet of teachers unions — even accusing them of waging an elaborate political conspiracy.
“Who is opposed to opening schools? Take a guess. The teachers unions,” Carlson said. “The teachers unions' position on every question is always the same — they would like less work, no accountability, and much more pay.”
“None of this is rational. It is hysteria. And of course, it's political, too,” Carlson eventually concluded. “America's teachers unions are some of the most stridently partisan organizations in our country. They are the biggest backers of the Democratic Party. This is an election year. They believe more chaos and more displacement will help them win. Maybe they're right, but it's sick. These are people who will destroy anything for more power, and unfortunately, this season that means hurting your children.”
Additionally, Carlson’s claim that in Washington state, “non-white kids will get to go back first while white students will be ordered to stay home until the virus subsides,” appears to be a total misinterpretation of a report three weeks ago in The Seattle Times. This involved discussions over prioritizing different groups of students for restored in-person learning, including various under-served demographics who were disproportionately unable to access distance learning.
Fox prime-time host Laura Ingraham also declared on her July 7 show: “Now, as usual, if you're looking for culprits in the schools regarding their lame bias curriculum or waffling on the question of reopening, the road always leads back to the Democrats’ fiercest, most loyal donors — the teachers' unions.”
“This is unbelievable, this is like child abuse at some point. From a medical and a common sense standpoint, the decision to put kids back in school should be a slam dunk yes,” Ingraham added. “But since Joe Biden is bought and paid for by the teachers unions, he's just going to rubber-stamp whatever they decide. A Biden campaign official tells Fox News, ‘We need to ensure we can do it safely, in line with the recommendations of public health experts.’ Translation: The unions want more money.”
And in a later segment attacking “leftist school administrators,” Ingraham called containment measures in schools “a scam” and said mockingly: “They want all the money. The school — the unions are like, ‘We need money for crews and acrylic dividers,’ and as if that's the only thing they're going to spend it on. I don't buy that for a second.”