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Editorial: Ignore those 3 million virus cases. Trump says it's time kids get back to school.

Editorial: Ignore those 3 million virus cases. Trump says it's time kids get back to school.

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New challenges to keep classrooms safe amid plans to reopen schools

Teresa Patton, a night custodial supervisor with the Fort Zumwalt School District, sprays a bleach disinfectant in the classrooms of Progress South Elementary in O'Fallon, Mo., on March 12 as the pandemic was still in its early stages. Attempts to resume classroom instruction in coming weeks face major hurdles amid a spike in new coronavirus infections. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

The desire to get kids back into classrooms is not in dispute. Parents and pediatricians increasingly feel that children are suffering for lack of educational and social stimuli. Teachers want professional fulfillment. Taxpayers want to know their money isn’t being wasted on a bunch of empty buildings. And politicians mindful of November elections, including President Donald Trump and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, are anxious to produce symbols of America’s economic revival.

But no matter how overwhelming the desire, the simple scientific facts cannot be ignored: The pandemic continues to rage out of control, with conservative states in the South and West leading the country in new infections and hospitalizations. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas insists that his state’s students return to their classrooms in just a few weeks, even as the state is seeing more than 10,000 new cases per day. Where’s the logic in that?

On Tuesday, Missouri experienced an all-time high in daily positive test results as Parson flew to Washington with state Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven to join Trump in a declaration that classroom teaching must resume. Parson just approved a budget that cuts $131 million from K-12 public education — meaning schools will have fewer financial resources to address a more expensive and dangerous new reality.

Trump’s political motive is obvious. His reelection prospects are dwindling amid record-low public approval ratings, driven downward largely by his bungled pandemic response. Trump has demonstrated a shocking inability to grasp basic science. Yet somehow he hopes to convince Americans that he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to resuming public education in the middle of a pandemic.

Neither Trump nor Parson can point to a credible record of progress to justify reopening schools. They don’t even demonstrate an understanding of why leaders must be seen wearing masks in public. When students are admonished for removing their masks, they can point to Trump and Parson to argue that masks don’t matter.

Students also can accurately point to statistics showing that they face an extremely low risk of serious illness. So after a few days back in the classroom, who could blame them for asking: If top leaders don’t take this seriously, why should we?

Teachers — especially those in high-risk health categories — have every right to be skeptical and reluctant. They have a hard enough time keeping students at their desks and off their cellphones. Now they’re being ordered to endanger their own health by standing in classroom cauldrons with dozens of young potential coronavirus spreaders.

Just because this is Trump’s newest obsession — one of dozens he’s had since the pandemic hit — doesn’t mean the pandemic has magically disappeared. Rather, his mismanagement has made it worse, and teachers are being asked to pay an exceedingly heavy price for it.

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