The White House held an event Tuesday aimed at pushing public schools to open normally this fall, at which Donald Trump vowed he would pressure governors to order schools to open, regardless of whether their states are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks, which aren't real anyway.



Weirdly, Trump followed the claim that "everybody" wants the schools open — "The moms want it. The dads want it. The kids want it. It's time to do it" — with the happy news that "the mortality rate is right now at a level that people don't talk about," which is always something parents love to remind themselves of when sending their children off to school.

Since Trump went off on a tangent, so will we: Trump was talking about COVID-19, not school shootings, another great American tradition that's just waiting to come back as students return to school. While it's true that, at the moment, deaths from the virus are declining, the exploding number of cases is likely to be followed in a few weeks by higher deaths. Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday, "It's a false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death." In general, it's best not to believe anything Republicans say that might involve cause and effect, since they have come unstuck in time.

But yes, schools! Trump praised Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose education commissioner yesterday ordered all state schools to be open for in-person classes, five days a week, when the school year starts in August. Then Trump insisted schools nationwide must open, because the only reason anyone would keep them closed is clearly "political":

We hope that most schools are going to be open. We don't want people to make political statements or do it for political reasons. They think it's gonna be good for them politically so they keep the schools closed. No way.

We're very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools, to get 'em open. It's very important. It's very important for our country, it's very important for the well-being of the student and the parents. So we're going to be putting a lot of pressure on. Open your schools, in the fall.

Trump really does seem to have remembered that was the message, since he'd tweeted it Monday, too. In all caps, so you'd know it was important.

Schools are entirely a state and local matter, and not even presidents who know what they're doing have any power to order such a thing. But presidents who know what they're doing would know that.

Still, unlike many of the administration's hobby horses, this one at least has some connection to reality. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently called for schools to have kids "physically present in school" because it's so important to children's educational and social development — as long as it can be done while mitigating the risk of transmitting the virus. A New York Times op-ed by epidemiologist Jennifer B. Nuzzo and pediatrician Joshua M. Sharfstein argued persuasively that the benefits of in-person learning are worth reopening the schools, noting that other countries have managed to reopen schools safely:

Austria, Denmark, Germany and Norway have reopened schools without major outbreaks. These nations and others have taken a variety of measures to be safe, including opening slowly, limiting class size and adopting aggressive infection-control practices. Israel experienced outbreaks in schools, but only after loosening limitations on class sizes.

Nuzzo and Sharfstein also set out a number of precautions schools and communities will need to take so schools can be reopened safely. Unfortunately, their very first requirement for safely restarting school is where the reality of America's slipshod approach to public health crashes and burns.

A responsible strategy for reopening school starts with controlling the community spread of Covid-19 through distancing and the use of face masks, as well as robust tracing, isolation and quarantining, as all countries that have opened schools without spikes in cases did before resuming instruction.

Some communities might be there. But nah, too many parts of the country won't even accept that masks and social distancing are anything but socialist mind-control. The rest of the suggestions in the piece all seem reasonable and doable, apart from the bits where the authors call for significant federal aid to help make it all work, because why would we spend money on keeping kids safe at school when, say, the Ayn Rand Foundation needs a bailout? Still, go give it a read; It's a thoughtful discussion of balancing risk mitigation and meeting the needs of kids and families. It's just not anything America wants to bother doing.

Trump's roundtable yesterday, we'd note, didn't discuss any new federal funding for schools, although Melania Trump did say it was important for children to play with their friends and be around other kids. It's a valuable point! Look what happens when children never learn how to get along with others.

Instead of following any sort of blueprint, though, it's far likelier that, just as Trump pushed states to rush into reopening businesses before the public health infrastructure was ready, we'll half-ass it on reopening the schools, too. The orders, like Florida's mandate to open all the schools with full services in August, will go out, and the schools will do their best to comply. We'll hope by then that the news out of Florida is better than Tuesday's reports of 43 hospitals whose Intensive Care Units are at capacity. Maybe testing and contact tracing will be sufficient by the time the schools all open, and maybe they won't. Chances are good the state's bars and strip clubs will stay open, because Florida, and people will wonder why the virus is still spreading,

To reinforce Trump's message yesterday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (who is also not the Boss of Schools) held a conference call in which she berated governors she felt were too timid about reopening schools during a raging pandemic. "Education leaders need to examine real data and weigh risk … risk is involved in everything we do, from learning to ride a bike to riding a rocket into space and everything in between," DeVos said, perhaps hoping that sounded inspirational.

Thing is, there's risk, and then there's ignoring warnings. Sure, ride the rocket. But don't insist on launching when the engineers who built the solid rocket boosters are telling you the O-rings can't handle the frigid temperatures.

[NPR / NYT / WTXL/ Politico]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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