Speaking to Senator Dick Durbin last Friday morning, Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, opened his interview and said Chicago’s parents are “in their arms” and “outraged” that schools will not reopen. He followed by claiming that “the science on this is pretty clear: it’s safe to send children back to school.”
Both claims are largely false, and misrepresent what both the scientific guides and the vast majority of parents in Chicago as a whole have actually suggested.
Nonetheless, big media outlets like Scarborough continue to sell the bogus narratives that it is safe to reopen schools without vaccinating teachers. They only listen very selectively to what scientific experts like Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, actually say.
This selective listening leads to the ideologically motivated distribution of flawed stories that downplay the severity of the virus and are merely more subtle versions of Trump’s downplaying and disapproval that characterized the COVID-19 virus as a hoax.
This downplaying and disapproval has, of course, discouraged the policies and measures that would actually help the nation weather the pandemic and return to more normal conditions faster.
But now it starts again.
For example, Washington Post columnist Marc A. Thiessen accuses Biden of following the teachers’ unions, not science, as if the choice was really an either-or proposition. He chooses some of her words to represent his case, highlighting her sentences that “schools can reopen safely” and “vaccinating teachers is not a requirement for schools to reopen safely”.
Walensky has indisputably said that schools MAY reopen, but let’s also listen more carefully – and not so selectively – to what Walensky actually says.
She made it clear that the data, science, “doesn’t show much coronavirus transmission when appropriate mitigation measures, such as masking, distancing, classroom densification, ventilation, contact tracing, hand washing, are in place and well done.” And she also stresses that vaccination teachers should be prioritized as an essential workforce.
Let’s underline the big “IF” here. There is “not much” transmission when these mitigating measures are well implemented.
Should “not much” make parents feel safe sending their children back to school? Teachers who must then return home to their partners, children, and possibly extended families, should feel safe returning when the CDC actually indicates that “School Mitigation Models are successful in limiting outbreaks.” and infections have shown in schools. “
Let us underline “Limiting Outbreaks” here.
Mayor Lightfoot has insisted that teachers return to Chicago Public Schools prior to vaccination and urged the union to reach a compromise.
Compromise With Death? Is that what she means
Firstly, as a resident of the Exhibition City of Chicago whose children attend Chicago Public Schools, I can tell you that many of the buildings are ancient and have insufficient ventilation. And as I write, the temperature is 10 degrees so the windows won’t open.
I myself work at a small state university in Chicago and the administration has moved away from the negotiating table to ensure proper ventilation and safe air quality.
So let’s really listen to what the CDC is saying. First, appropriate mitigation measures must be taken. The media and some of our leaders seem to conveniently omit this phrase when berating teachers.
Second, what they call safe is “not much transmission”.
Thiessen cited a study in schools in Wisconsin that found that “schools had less COVID-19 incidence than the community” after those schools implemented basic harm reduction measures.
Does a lower incidence really mean “safe”?
Indeed, the CDC said schools are safe to reopen “if they follow appropriate protocols and are in communities that report fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 population in the past seven days and have a positivity rate of less than 8%.”
However, Walensky himself pointed out that over 90% of the country’s K-12 schools are in areas with high transmission rates.
In my own facility, which oversees a large proportion of working class and colored students, the prevailing expressions of fear and reluctance to return to campus come from students themselves, who may take multiple buses to get to school and who are at live in an extended family, including grandparents.
And while young children are less prone to COVID-19, they can certainly transmit it and do so on a large scale.
Do we forget that over 450,000 Americans have died so far, with 630,000 projected by June?
In a recent poll, only 37% of parents in Chicago said they would take their children back to school.
This initiative is not coming from families.
And if Lightfoot and others really care about children, their families, teachers, and school staff, just get yourself vaccinated like many districts in and outside of Chicago actually do!
It was clear to Biden, “I think it’s time for schools to reopen safely – safely,” he said in a recent interview on CBS. “You have to have fewer people in the classroom, you have to have ventilation systems that have been redesigned.”
He listens to science AND he listens to the teachers and unions who represent them in their workplaces.
California teachers have urged vaccinations as a condition of return precisely because the buildings are far from meeting safety guidelines. Joey Garrison and Maureen Groppe reported for USA Today, “If recommendations include updating ventilation systems in aging school buildings or smaller class sizes – safety measures discussed by the president – the corrections may not be quick.”
Biden recognizes that listening to trade unions to value worker safety and listening to science fully are not mutually exclusive.
Do we want a replay of Donald Trump ordering meat processing workers back to dangerous plants just for Tyson managers to place bets on which workers get sick first?
Biden listens to workers and science and provides an example of how we value life properly and protect and practice democracy. Democracy in the workplace in America is far less than a reality, but Biden tries to model and promote it by listening to the voices of workers while listening to science.
Tim Libretti is a professor of American literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. As a longtime progressive voice, he has published numerous academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, and the National Federation of Press Women and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.