MARY KATHARINE HAM: Democrats’ support for school closings comes back to bite.
Returning teachers and administrators certainly faced risks. They worried for their students, themselves and their own families. But as the school year progressed, the high costs of virtual school led some public-health officials to change their tune on the risk calculus, suggesting that in the time of vaccines and other mitigations, “teachers need to accept, as other essential workers have, that returning to school will entail some risk.”
Often, Democratic politicians, health and school officials, and teachers unions in some of America’s bluest cities and suburbs aligned perfectly in a mission to keep school doors closed for so long. In these places, in-person instruction was deemed nonessential by the very people who claim to fight for public-school education.
The high academic and social costs of remote learning and closed schools are now indisputable, but there was also a political cost. Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia capitalized on it by appealing to frustrated parents in 2021. He won an underdog race in this increasingly blue battleground state, the first statewide win for the GOP in more than a decade, on the strength of improved suburban performance combined with rural base turnout.
His opponent former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s defining gaffe — “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach” — solidified his party’s image as aligned with school boards and teachers unions, as did his decision to have American Federation of Teachers head Randi Weingarten stump for him at the close of the race.
After that loss, and a squeaker for Democrats in a New Jersey governor’s race animated by many of the same issues, the landscape changed. The American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that for the 2021-22 school year, the risks of closing schools outweighed opening them — even in the face of more contagious variants like Delta and Omicron. But the political damage remains for Democrats, who had become the face of school-closure policy.
In addition to the damage done to kids by losing in-class learning, the switchover to Zoom also allowed parents to finally see much more of what their kids were being taught. As did accounts such as Libs of TikTok, which curated the craziest of what leftist teachers were voluntarily uploading to the Internet, resulting in headlines such as this: Left-Wing Teachers Ditch Teaching To Indoctrinate Kids About Sex Against Parents’ Will.
Right on cue, to deflect from the myriad woes of state-run education.