A Fairfax, Virginia, high school has at long last reopened: Some students can now come to class two days a week, sit in desks that are six feet apart, open up their laptops, and receive virtual instruction from their teacher, who remains at home. An additional school employee—one of 800 new "classroom monitors"—sits in the classroom with the students.
Rational parents might object that such a school—Annandale High School—is not meaningfully reopened in any sense, but this is what students are being asked to live with for the foreseeable future. Under Fairfax's reopening plans, thousands of teachers will be permitted to keep teaching from home—even if their students are back in the classroom.
Some students returned to the classroom today in Fairfax County. These students at Annandale HS are in the building but still learning virtually. Each is in a different class with a different teacher who is teaching from home. One of FCPS' new class monitors is in the room. pic.twitter.com/cDrm7wgDAh
— Drew Wilder (@DrewWilderTV) February 16, 2021
The Biden administration has maintained that reopening schools is one of its top priorities. But White House spokesperson Jen Psaki recently said that the government would settle for 50 percent of schools being opened one day a week. Even if schools do reopen more concretely in the fall—and that's a big if—aggressive social distancing measures are likely to remain in place. Students will be expected to wear masks and sit six feet apart, even though the latter requirement is difficult for many schools to meet (they just don't have the room).
Meanwhile, teachers union leaders are insisting on other protocols that will gum up reopening efforts, like power-washing of surfaces (which is not actually important for COVID-19 mitigation). And the unions wish for these costly countermeasures to remain in place even after their members have all had the opportunity to be vaccinated.
It's becoming quite clear that public school students in many large, urban districts will be expected to cope with a substandard classroom experience for at least the rest of 2021. Legislators in states across the country should respond by expanding school choice for families; no kid should be stuck in a classroom, masked and socially distant, receiving instructions from a remote teacher via Zoom, because there was no other option.