Friday, June 18, 2021

A National Catastrophe Is Unfolding Before Our Eyes—the CDC Just Made It Worse

I work hard not to sound hyperbolic in my writing but we have officially reached a point of politicization at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that will do irreparable damage to children. Special interests who do not work on behalf of students or science do not only have a seat at the table of stakeholders—they appear to own the table.

The unthinkable is happening right before our eyes.

We saw a bold, honest and loyal-to-science CDC director in Dr. Rochelle Walensky on February 3rd when she pronounced that vaccinating teachers is not a pre-requisite for reopening schools. But after Press Secretary Jen Psaki quickly threw her under the bus and other White House officials got their claws into her, everything changed. During Walensky’s swing through the Sunday shows this Valentine’s Day, I wondered if her blinking was an effort to make sure we knew that she didn’t actually believe what she was saying.

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And how could she? At the outset of the Friday press conference on February 12th to announce and explain the school reopening guidance, she said this:

What we are finding from the science-based literature is that there is more spread that is happening in the community when schools are not open than when schools are open.

Then we all got whiplash when she went on to present a set of guidelines that, if followed, would keep 99 percent of school children out of their school buildings—including those who have been attending school all year long. Based on CDC metrics, fewer than 100,000 children out of over 50 million live in a county of “low” or “moderate transmission” where the CDC recommends K-12 schools open for full in-person instruction. (Most of them are in Washington state and Hawaii.) If every single school were to follow these guidelines—instead of the science— less than 1 percent of America’s students could go to school in person five days a week. Not even a half percent could go. Not even a quarter of a percent could go.

As I said, the unthinkable is happening before our eyes.

And it gets worse. In yet another massive shift of the goalposts, the CDC is now excluding all students older than grade 5 from any hope of returning to school five days a week, if at all. After long excluding high schoolers from their talking points, they have also erased middle schoolers. It looks like in all the horse trading happening behind the scenes with the teachers’ unions, middle schoolers are yet another casualty.

Walensky is also singing a very different tune on distancing—the guidelines released Friday call for 6 feet. She advocated for 3-feet-of distance over the summer.

From National Review’s Jim Geraghty:

Now, just to remind ourselves of how evil, dishonest and absurd all of this is, we must keep in mind that 65 percent of K12 students in America are already going to school in person either full or part-time. But in places where the union power is impenetrable (Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco) and/or the school board skews far left (Fairfax, Virginia), this guidance spells disaster for millions of children.

Other people’s children.

22 states have already taken action legislatively in an effort to get education dollars directly into the hands of parents—the idea is to fund students instead of systems. That is a start in terms of providing lifeboats to families. But none of the states who have taken this kind of legislative action are blue strongholds. This means that students who live in Democrat controlled states are far less likely to see the inside of a classroom this year and possibly even next year—at least not five days a week. (Remember that the Biden administration said their goal was to get kids back 1 day a week in 50 percent of schools in his first 100 days—even though we had already surpassed that target in October, before election day and long before his inauguration.)

We are in trouble here. The messaging has shifted so dramatically and it hasn’t only strayed from what the science tells us—it has strayed from coronavirus too.

If ever there were a time to reflect upon the injustice of compulsory education laws that base school assignment on residential address, this is the moment. The per pupil dollars of children who have been locked out of school since March are being funneled into systems that have ceased to provide essential services. Meanwhile, children in Catholic schools —where they spend less money per student—get to go to school every day. If a parent prefers remote learning, and is satisfied with what their child is getting, no problem. But for the parents who want or need an in-person option, they should be able to take their tax dollars to a school that is actually open.

I wish I had a solution to offer that would ease parents’ frustration, anger and desperation immediately. I don’t. Teachers’ unions are arguably the most powerful entity in American politics—and we now have a president who made them a lot of promises in the midst of a global pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the American education system. It is an uphill fight that does not bode well for students this year. Or next year. (Disclaimer: I was an NEA member in two states during my years as an educator.)

But parents in cities and towns all over the nation are are trying hard to fight back and some lifelong Democrats are expressing complete disillusionment and anger at their party and the president. There is no doubt that it is a David and Goliath match up in terms of organization, money and power (and expertise and time!) but an army of furious parents is certainly a force to behold.

If we are calling balls and strikes, we all know we saw tons of stories about the Trump administration’s politicization of the CDC. People were apoplectic. Everyone who wrote those stories then owes it to the public to be equally concerned about what is happening now.

The positive way to look at this is that most schools that are open will likely stay open—these guidelines are not a mandate. But they give serious, albeit unscientific, ammunition and cover to unions and school board members who want to limit in-person instruction as much as possible.

A national catastrophe is unfolding before our eyes.

This piece first ran here on Substack.

Erika Sanzi
Erika Sanzi is a former educator and elected school committee member. She is also a senior visiting fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Her blog is Good School Hunting and her Substack is Sanzi Says. She occasionally writes for other outlets including Scary Mommy, The 74, and The Hill. She is the mother of three school aged sons and calls Rhode Island home.

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