Biden Redefines What "Reopening Schools' Means

Under his definition, it's one day of instruction per week in 50% of K-8 schools sometime during the next 100 days

I almost feel like I have to apologize for how mad I’ve been the past few days as these stories about school reopening continue to make my head explode at increasingly regular intervals. The latest reason for my apoplexy came during a press conference today when Press Secretary Jen Psaki clarified what the Biden team means when they talk about re-opening schools.

When a reporter asked Psaki to offer more detail about what the administration has in mind when it refers to “reopening schools, her response was beyond jarring.

“That means some teaching in classrooms. So at least one day a week. Hopefully it’s more,” Psaki said, adding that it should occur “as much as it is safe [to do] in each school and local district.

When pressed further about whether or not students would be in a classroom with a teacher, Psaki confirmed that she meant “in-person teaching.”

And, let’s remember, they have already signaled that their definition of “re-opening” does not even include high schoolers.

There are a few reasons why Psaki’s answer today is remarkable in how insane it is. For starters, the pathetic goal she lays out has already been met. More than 50 percent of students in the United States are already going to school in-person more than once a week and have been since October.

Has the Biden administration forgotten that schools and students actually do exist outside of the large districts ruled that have been closed since March and are ruled by unions? Despite his repeated promise of “I will be a president for all Americans,” he seems to have forgotten everybody who lives in a place where kids have been hopping on school buses in masks and going to school since the beginning of the year.

So what is the strategy of setting a goal that makes absolutely no sense?

I think Anthony LaMesa gets it exactly right here:

We know, according to reports, that Biden was on the phone giving AFT president Randi Weingarten a “pep talk” last week. Perhaps it was something like,

“Don’t worry, Randi. Everything will be ok once I use my bully pulpit to lower everyone’s expectations and push for just one day of instruction per week sometime in the next 100 days. By then it will almost be time for summer break! And we won’t even push for anything for the high schoolers.”

My anger on this is not personal. My own children have been in a hybrid learning situation since September—with some pauses due to staffing shortages—and our district just announced that they are hoping to get students back in-person four days a week starting in March. It has been far from perfect but it certainly isn’t anything like what parents in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City have been grappling with. At least my kids have seen the inside of a classroom and spent time with teachers and peers in person.

I’ve seen generous people online today say that the goal shared by Psaki is “less ambitious” than people had hoped. And lackluster. And disappointing.

Those descriptors are way too charitable in my opinion.

It is unconscionable that an administration whose members spent the better part of the past four years blasting the Trump administration and the GOP for being “anti-science” has suddenly decided to stop believing in science altogether.

The American Academy of Pediatrics came out in favor of reopening schools in June.

His own CDC director said last week that “there is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen. And that that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely."

Biden’s team said she wasn’t speaking in her official capacity as CDC director—which was not true.

We knew that Biden sold his soul to the teachers’ unions before election day—he was forthcoming about where his alliances would lie and they certainly weren’t going to be with students and families. That was bad enough. But he and his administration are now complicit in science denial during a pandemic. And they are complicit in siding with unions over medical professionals and scientists to keep children out of their schools.

Nobody said this would be easy and nobody is expecting perfection. But we certainly expected something better than betrayal.

And today feels like a betrayal.