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Opinion | Covid-Related School Chaos Is a Problem for Democrats

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In an environment like this, Republican proposals to subsidize private school tuition are likely to be received gratefully by many parents. It’s a perilous situation for Democrats, the party of public schools. If they want to stanch the bleeding, they should treat the rollout of the children’s Covid vaccine as an opportunity to make public schools feel lively and joyful again.

Public schools may finally be open across the country, but in many districts, things are far from normal. In Fairfax County, an unvaccinated student identified as a “close contact” of someone who tests positive for Covid must quarantine for 14 days, no matter the results of the student’s own Covid tests. At some schools, students have been forbidden to talk during lunch. At my own kids’ school, students must be masked even during outdoor recess.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, wants to see outdoor masking ended as a first step toward unwinding other Covid restrictions. “The C.D.C. has been clear that everyone can unmask outside unless they’re in close contact with each other,” she said. “And I believe that schools should be doing this for recess. And I believe we need to give parents and teachers a road map to what it takes to start undoing the mitigations. It was clear that vaccines for teachers helped us reopen schools. Maybe it’s vaccines for kids helping us get to unmasking of teachers and kids in schools.”

Other post-Covid problems are harder to solve than masks. In Michigan, schools have been forced to close because of staff shortages. “Workers in short-staffed departments are shouldering more work, students have been denied bus rides to get to school, special education students are going without one-to-one aides, classrooms are doubled up and principals are acting as substitutes as pools of candidates dwindle,” reported The Detroit Free Press. This is a complicated problem, but it’s up to the state’s Democratic governor, as well as the Biden administration, to solve it, for their own sake as well as that of their constituents.

Rufo readily admits that school closures prepared the ground for the drive against critical race theory. “You have a multiracial group of parents that felt like the public school bureaucracies were putting their children through a policy regime of chaos, with Covid and shutdowns, and then pumping them full of left-wing racialist ideologies,” he said. He’s right about the first part, even if the second is a fantasy.

Now Democrats have a choice. They can repair the public schools, or watch people like Rufo destroy them.

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