Science or Science Fiction?

When pressed about the reason for closing schools as a way to limit the spread of Covid-19, the comment you mostly hear from the teachers unions and other shutdown hawks is, “Follow the science!” Typical is American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten who declared in an online interview in August, “Decisions on school re-openings should be left to scientists and experts, not ideologues.” But clearly Weingarten and other power brokers are the ideologues who are making these decisions, often as a ploy to advance their agenda, much of which concerns massive amounts of money being poured into education.

According to the most recent Covid Tracking Project data, 43.5 percent of students in the U.S. were attending virtual-only schools. Big city districts with powerful teachers unions have been especially hard hit. Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago are offering online-only instruction at this time and for the foreseeable future.

The schools in the unionized Fresno Unified School District in central California are only open for homeless and special needs kids. The Fresno Teachers Association has said the district should remain in distance learning at least through the end of the year, and prepare for a “safe, healthy and limited physical return” in the future. But right next door in Clovis, which has never had a teachers union, parents have a choice. They are free to send their kids back to school, or can have them learn at home via Zoom.

Taking Weingarten’s advice, let’s look at what actual scientists are saying.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield asserts that “school is one of the safest places” for children. Also, drawing on an assessment of data from 31 countries, UNICEF  maintains that “there is strong evidence that, with basic safety measures in place, the net benefits of keeping schools open outweigh the costs of closing them.” Moreover, the findings of a major British study reveal that it was a mistake to close schools. “The results demonstrate no evidence of serious harms from COVID-19 to adults in close contact with children, compared to those living in households without children. This has implications for determining the benefit-harm balance of children attending school in the COVID-19 pandemic.” In October’s Great Barrington Declaration, world renowned scientists noted that keeping children out of school is a “grave injustice.”

Interestingly, Randi Weingarten has been mum on all of these scientific reports.

The damage done to children by union leaders and the rest of the shutdown hawks has been devastating. According to a report issued on October 1st by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), on average, students in 19 states had an estimated loss from 57 to 183 days of learning in reading and from 136 to 232 days of learning in math in the spring of 2020 due to the lockdowns. The CDC documents that between April and October 2020, the proportion of emergency department visits for children aged 5–11 years rose 24 percent, and for 12–17 year-olds the increase was 31 percent. Also, a recent Harvard study finds that more and more young people are showing symptoms of severe depression and having suicidal thoughts. The researchers stress that in October 36.9 percent of young adults had suicidal thoughts, more than doubling pre-lockdown numbers..

The good news is that in November, the mainstream media began to question forced school closures. The New York Times veteran liberal writer Nicholas Kristof insists “When Trump Was Right and Many Democrats Wrong. Children have suffered because many mayors and governors were too willing to close public schools.” The Washington Post published an opinion piece by Emily Oster, a professor of economics at Brown University, “Schools are not spreading covid-19. This new data makes the case.” Also, “Why Are We Closing Schools? Keeping kids out of the classroom will make recovering from the pandemic harder in the long term, while not keeping us any safer in the near term” appeared in The Atlantic.

And, there are now Democrats – usually in lockstep with the unions and other shut-downers – who are singing a new tune. The fact that California governor Gavin Newson’s kids returned to their tony private school in late October was bridge too far for Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), the California Teachers Association-supported chair of the state Assembly Education Committee. He said that the state’s closure regimen amounts to “state-sanctioned segregation.” Even Covid safety czar Anthony Fauci is on board, insisting that we should “close the bars” and open schools.

So just who are the teachers unions looking out for? Obviously not the kids. And, despite the constant fearmongering, teachers really don’t have much to worry about. The CDC reports that between February 1st and November 25th of this year, 4,663 people between the age of 35 to 44 (average age of teachers) died from COVID-19 in the U.S. At this rate, over a year’s time there would be far fewer Covid-related deaths than the 8,217 35-44-year-olds who died in automobile accidents in 2017. And the unions aren’t shutting schools down due to traffic deaths. (Yes, older teachers, especially those with certain medical conditions, may have to wait for a vaccine before returning to a classroom.)

Randi Weingarten and others condescendingly and cynically throw the word “science” around, hoping it will push legislators and taxpayers to accede to their demands for bottomless pit funding. This is devious, and there is absolutely nothing scientific about it.

This article originally appeared in the California Policy Center.

About Larry Sand

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network—a nonpartisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Photo: A. Martin UW Photography/Getty Images

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