"I believe that school is one of the safest places for our students." That's what Carson City School Superintendent Richard Stokes told me when I asked him about reopening the nation's public schools. I think most of us agree with Stokes.
Here in Carson, Stokes and his staff have implemented a hybrid school instructional plan. Most local kids are in school two days a week and online for the remaining three days. "This system effectively permits one-half of our student body to be on campus each day of the week, except Monday," Stokes told me. In my opinion, his plan isn't ideal, but it's a lot better than what some big city school districts are doing, in effect locking kids out of classrooms while unionized teachers refuse to return to schools for in-person learning.
In Chicago for example, "progressive" Mayor Lori Lightfoot is in a showdown with the local teachers' union. After the city invested more than $100 million in school safety measures, teachers refused to go back to work, saying that all of them should be vaccinated against COVID-19 before schools reopen. Nevertheless, Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky said vaccinations shouldn't be a prerequisite for reopening schools. "We had three weeks of safely implementing our plan until the teachers' union blew it up," said a frustrated Lightfoot.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the school board was much more interested in renaming schools than in reopening them. Among allegedly "racist" names removed from local schools were those of the usual suspects – Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington – plus Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor who's accused of prosecuting black criminals.
The City of San Francisco is suing the school board for failing to come up with a plan to put kids and teachers back into classrooms, where they belong. There's a similar situation in the suburban Seattle school district that sets policy for the online high school my 16-year-old twin grandsons – straight "A" Honor Role sophomores – attend.
That "woke" school district made a big deal out of celebrating Black Lives Matter Week, but can't find a way to reopen schools. My grandsons haven't seen a classroom or a real, live teacher since early last year. Instead, they're stuck in front of computer screens at home when they should be socializing with their friends.
A very experienced schoolteacher friend of mine in a rural Colorado district where schools are open tells me there are three reasons why kids should be in classrooms: (1) student engagement, as opposed to a virtual environment, (2) a need for face-to-face discussion, which helps kids think and build their knowledge and (3) community – "classroom community is everything," she told me. Amen!
During last year's nationwide election campaign, President Biden vowed to reopen most of the nation's public schools during his first 100 days in office, but he seems to be waffling on that promise in the face of opposition by teachers' unions, which contributed millions of dollars to Biden and other Democrats last year. Strangely, we haven't heard from the president's wife, Dr. (don't forget the "Dr.") Jill Biden, a community college teacher, on this issue. Could the Bidens be putting teachers' unions ahead of children?
While many public schools remain closed, most parochial and private schools around the country, have been open during the current academic year, including Bethlehem Lutheran and St. Teresa's here in Carson. Their mostly unvaccinated teachers haven't suffered a wave of COVID-19 infections.
Open our public schools!
Guy W. Farmer graduated from West Seattle High School and the University of Washington, Seattle, and earned an MA equivalent at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.