Progressives declare war on Biden’s push for opening schools The president’s critics are sidelining science for politics

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Ahmed Ahmed

Following the spike of cases due to Omicron, a new wave of school closures have rocked cities across the country. Thousands of schools have closed the first week of the year. School districts in Montana, Colorado, Ohio and others have shifted to remote learning for at least a few days. CCSD also cancelled classes for multiple days.

The recently inflamed fights over shutting down schools has put President Joe Biden in an awkward spot. He earned enormous support from teachers unions during his 2020 campaign, and they’re consistently one of the largest donors to Democratic candidates. But the return to remote learning that several teachers unions currently back means that they’re entirely unaligned with the Biden Administration, which supports in-person schooling.

Though the past two years of debates over in-person learning can feel like a never ending cycle of the same arguments, the case for keeping students and teachers in classrooms is far stronger than when this debate was most popular in the fall of 2020. Then, mitigation efforts relied entirely on minimizing person-to-person contact. This is because the idea of having an actual testing and tracing system, which helped other countries tame the virus early, was impossible with a president who bragged about slowing down testing.

But none of this matters now, as vaccines have all but evaporated any argument in favor of COVID-19 restrictions. Virtually all deaths from the virus are now among those who choose to not get vaccinated. Just take a look at the UK, where 70.8% of the population has been fully vaccinated. The extremely infectious Omicron variant has led to an astonishing 180 thousand cases seven day average, two-and-a-half times the previous peak. But death rates have barely increased, again overwhelmingly among the unvaccinated. Trying to prevent people from getting COVID-19 at this point is an absurd public policy goal, as vaccines have essentially turned the virus into an obnoxious cold rather than the deadly illness it was in 2020.

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The case against remote learning is also backed by the fact that it causes enormous learning loss. This argument was true in March of 2020, and it hasn’t become less true. What has become less true is that students and teachers are entirely helpless against the deadly virus – everyone older than five has incredibly easy access to life-saving preventative medicine.

Biden’s choices on this front vary from “bad” to “somehow far worse.” He could go full steam ahead on reopening schools, alienating a key constituency and opening himself to more attacks from his left. Or he could take the side of the teachers unions, increasing the odds of being labeled a flip-flopper and endangering the education of millions of kids across the country.

Though the president has no ideal options here, the availability of the vaccine makes endorsing in-person learning a no-brainer. Teachers who fear contracting Omicron — which is likely less dangerous than previous variants — are more than free to get vaccinated and boosted. The same is equally true for children as young as five, and any worried parents or grandparents of school age children. COVID-19 becomes a non threat even to “high risk” children following vaccinations.

None of this means that reopening advocates are without their sins. Many conservatives with the correct position on reopening schools oppose vaccine mandates, when vaccines are precisely the tool that make keeping kids in classes so safe. There should be precisely two goals for the pandemic and no more: getting everyone vaccinated, and getting everyone boosted.

Right-wingers pretending the vaccines don’t work are rightfully criticized by liberals — the evidence is overwhelming that they do. But in pushing for schools to shut down, progressives send the message that the vaccines don’t really work, and that the virus still poses a significantly lethal threat to those who get vaccinated and boosted. Biden should continue to recognize that if vaccines work, in-person schooling works.