Both President Trump and former Vice President Biden have offered plans to reopen America’s schools. Biden’s plan is better because it’s more consistent with conservative Republican principles, and therefore more likely to save lives and strengthen the economy.
The need to open up America’s schools and get the kids back into face-to-face classes is universally acknowledged. As an especially insightful article in the Washington Post puts it: There are so many reasons the country wants to return to in-person learning. The economy needs it. Millions of parents can’t get back to work until their children have someplace safe and constructive to spend their days. Justice demands it. Students in poverty have limited access to the computers and broadband necessary for virtual learning. The physical and mental health of young people depends on it. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school,” as the doctors said in a recent statement. “The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020.”
But Trump’s demand that all children be back in face-to-face classes at the beginning of the new school year carries its own risks. Pandemic infection rates are skyrocketing largely because we’ve tried to reopen the economy too quickly—a fact recognized by Governor Greg Abbott and other governors, especially in red states, who are beginning to reimpose restrictions—mandates that everyone should wear a mask in public, the closing of bars, limits on how many can dine in a restaurant, and so forth. A premature return of America’s children to the classroom could further accelerate the pandemic. Even if, as we’re told, younger children are less likely to become infected, and more likely to have only mild cases if they do get infected, they can still get ill and pass on infections to their elders (needless to say, low infection and mortality rates among children would offer no comfort to parents of kids who actually do get sick). And if more and more people get sick, they’ll be less able to work and thereby contribute to our necessary economic recovery. Indeed, a new resurgence in the pandemic could send the economy into another tailspin.
The Biden plan, to date, argues for a more nuanced approach to school re-openings, which should significantly reduce the risk of a further resurgence of the pandemic. It calls for school districts to be reopened only if and when the infection rate has been reduced to the point where the dangers of resurgence are minimal. It also offers more support for alternative means of education—online, remote viewing, etc.—if local pandemic conditions indicate these are safer approaches. In this sense, the plan is more conservative because it reflects one of the greatest of conservative virtues—prudence. Moreover, it is more consistent with the traditional Republican principle of local control of public education, inasmuch as the reopening of a particular school district as well as the adoption of alternatives to face-to-face classes will depend on local, not national, conditions, and these decisions will be made at the local level. In contrast, Trump’s approach is more consistent with the one-size-fits-all approach usually imposed on local governments by Democratic administrations (think Common Core).
President Trump is absolutely correct in wanting to open America’s schools. The best way to do so without running the risk of further damaging the economy instead is to adopt the Biden approach, the effectiveness of which will be due to its conservative nature. He can thus take credit for saving both the economy and, more importantly, saving more lives as well.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.