By Corey DeAngelis, National Review
Extended public-school closures and one-size-fits-all school systems have provided free advertising for school choice over the past year. Parents across the country are increasingly tired of fights between school-district leaders and teachers’ unions over whether classrooms should open for in-person instruction. And as their children’s learning continues to suffer, they are increasingly desperate for more options. Their desperation might just make school choice more popular, even after the pandemic is behind us.
One key factor driving parental exasperation is the obvious contrast between what public schools have done during this period and what private schools have done. While public schools in many cities remain closed, private schools and daycare centers have been fighting to safely reopen their doors for months. In fact, private schools in Kentucky went all the way to the Supreme Court to fight for the right to provide in-person services to their customers. A private school in Sacramento County, Calif., even rebranded itself as a “daycare” by training its employees as child-care workers in an attempt to get around the government’s arbitrary closure rules. Nationwide and state-specific data confirm that private schools have been substantially more likely to reopen in-person than nearby public schools. And four rigorous studies have each found that public-school districts with stronger teachers’ unions have been significantly less likely to reopen in person.
Even more frustrating, there is no major medical reason for this disparity. In fact, keeping schools closed for in-person instruction flies in the face of the science. Last month, Center for Disease Control (CDC) researchers reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that “the preponderance of available evidence from the fall school semester has been reassuring” and that “there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.” In New York City, for example, the latest positivity rate reported in schools was less than a tenth of the positivity rate in the overall community. Additional studies from other countries — including Sweden, Ireland, Norway, and Singapore — similarly suggest schools are not major contributors of community spread. UNICEF also reported that “data from 191 countries show no consistent association between school reopening status and COVID-19 infection rates.”
Yet certain examples of public-school behavior are particularly egregious even by these standards. For instance, while some public K–12 providers insisted on keeping classrooms fully remote, they were opening the same school buildings for in-person childcare services and charging families hundreds of dollars per child per week out of pocket. If the schools could reopen for in-person childcare services, why couldn’t they open for in-person learning? And more recently, a Chicago Teachers Union board member was caught vacationing in Puerto Rico while rallying teachers on social media to not return to work in person. But if was safe enough to travel to another country and vacation in person, then why wasn’t it safe enough to return to work in person?
Of course, some high-risk teachers have real health concerns and are looking for good-faith ways to make schools safer for them to be in. Unfortunately, unions have largely taken an all-or-nothing approach to their demands for reopening. In fact, many teachers’ unions across the country have been fighting to remain closed since the start of the pandemic.
Read more at National Review.