Critics accuse Biden of favoring partisan politics over scientific data on the issue
Liberal news outlet Vox took an apparent jab at the Biden White House on Tuesday in a column that called for a complete reopening of public schools and dismissed the ramped-up demands from teachers’ unions insisting on vaccine priority and additional funding as a prerequisite for returning to classrooms.
The column, titled “I’m an epidemiologist and a father. Here’s why I’m losing patience with our teachers’ unions,” was authored by Benjamin P. Linas, an associate professor of epidemiology and an infectious disease physician at Boston University School of Medicine.
“For the better part of the past year, I’ve been living inside the tempest that is Covid-19 and schools,” Linas wrote. “I am a father of three girls, ages 11, 13, and 17, all of whom go to public school. I am also an infectious diseases physician and epidemiologist. I understand teachers’ fear — it is real and I have felt it myself as a front-line doctor. But I also know that America needs to have its schools open for in-person learning and there are safe, affordable ways to do this — right now.”
The CDC released new guidance last week highlighting “layered mitigation strategies” to reduce COVID transmission in schools. CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky confirmed that schools can reopen before educators are vaccinated, but teachers’ unions are pushing back with demands that could postpone in-person learning well into 2022.
The Biden administration has stood by the union, echoing calls for more funding included in their $1.9 trillion-COVID relief package that has yet to be passed by Congress. Critics accuse the White House of favoring partisan politics over scientific data on the issue, blaming Democrats for caving to the unions and allowing them to dictate policies while “holding kids hostage” across the country.
“If educators and their unions don’t embrace the established science, they risk continuing to widen gaps in educational attainment — and losing the support of their many long-time allies, like me,” Linas wrote.
Despite a 0.15 transmission rate among teachers and staff, “the union continues to resist a return to full in-person learning,” he argued. “What’s more, the goalpost seems to have shifted again, now to universal vaccination of teachers.
“I find that I am losing sympathy for the educators’ position and their myopic vision this far along into the pandemic.”
— Benjamin P. Linas, Vox.com
“All of this is frustrating, especially to me as an epidemiologist. Generally, union leaders tie their position to public health guidance from bodies like the CDC. But so far, the implementation of these recommendations by our district’s union — and by many others across the country — has been opportunistic, and their stance does not align with current guidance from the World Health Organization, CDC, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, or the Massachusetts Department of Education.”
Linas acknowledged that while the safety of teachers is of significant concern when structuring reopening plans, “I find that I am losing sympathy for the educators’ position and their myopic vision this far along into the pandemic. We can open schools safely,” he wrote, “and we have the evidence in hand to prove it.”
Linas suggested a phased approach that involves bringing the youngest learners back to full-time in-person learning “with strict guidance for masking indoors, 3-foot minimal distancing with effort to maximize distance as much as possible.”
“Districts can certainly conduct air-exchange surveys in classrooms as an extra precautionary measure and use simple and affordable mitigation strategies for suboptimal conditions, such as upgrading HVAC filters, opening windows, and deploying portable HEPA filters in problem spaces,” he explained.
“Over the course of the rest of February and March, successive waves of older learners can return to school with the same guidelines, in a stepped process that allows teachers and administrators to adapt to growing numbers of students in their buildings.”
With this approach, Linas believes every public school child will return to safe in-person learning by April — “without optimal screening, before wide-spread vaccination, and without community transmission benchmarks that reflexively trigger school closures.”
“I love my kids’ teachers and believe in my core that they want what is best for my girls, but I am losing patience,” he concluded. “The time has arrived to open our schools for in-person learning — now. ‘
“We should be working to quickly implement universal asymptomatic testing of teachers as well as universal vaccination, but we cannot wait for those things to be in place before we begin moving, and the science shows that we don’t need to,” Linas added. ” At stake is the 2021-22 school year and, arguably, the future of American public education itself.”