Public schools

Republicans Open Schools, Democrats Still Keeping Them Closed

The latest data underscore an appallingly partisan split on what should be a more science-based decision.


If you look at only one graphic today, make it this state-by-state average of K-12 schools offering full-time, in-person instruction, as updated April 18 by Burbio:

Do you see the pattern? The 10 most open states on the left—Wyoming, Arkansas, Florida, South Dakota, Utah, Nebraska, Montana, Texas, North Dakota, and Louisiana, in that order—have wildly disparate COVID mortality, ranging from Utah's 67 per 100,000 residents to South Dakota's 221. But what they have in common is politics: All 10 voted in 2020 for Donald Trump, all 10 have Republican-controlled state legislatures, all except Louisiana have a Republican governor, all except Montana have two Republican U.S. senators, and in all 10 a majority of the state's delegation to the House of Representatives hails from the GOP.

Deep red states open schools.

What about the 10 most closed states on the right side of that bar graph? Maryland, Oregon, California, Washington, New Mexico, Hawaii, Virginia, Illinois, New Jersey, and Nevada also share more in their politics than they do in the pandemic. All 10 voted for Joe Biden in 2020, all 10 have Democratic-controlled state legislatures, all except Maryland have a Democratic governor, all 10 have two Democratic U.S. senators, and in all 10 a majority of the state's House delegation sits on the left side of the aisle.

Deep blue states keep schools closed.

As someone who has never belonged to a political party, rarely votes for major-party candidates, and co-wrote a book extolling the virtues of political independence, it gives me no great pleasure to see such an overwhelmingly partisan split on an issue affecting scores of millions of people. On the contrary: Seeing one of the two main parties so in thrall to either panic porn or teachers unions (or both) is a profoundly dispiriting experience.

Schools around the planet were overwhelmingly not spreading COVID-19 even before American teachers were given prioritized access to vaccines. Now that there's no excuse for educators not to be vaccinated, there's none left for buildings to remain even half-shut in this homestretch of a cursed school year.

And yet my 12-year-old is home again today and tomorrow, and my 6-year-old will likewise still be unwelcome in the building across the street on Wednesdays and Fridays until May 3 at the "earliest," her principal informed us Friday. Eagle-eyed observers may note that May 3 is a full six and a half weeks since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed its guidance for school distancing from six feet to three feet, thus removing the rationale New York City and other blue-state schools had for putting students through half-time hell.

But the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) has an outsized influence on the city's Department of Education (DOE), so the city is slow-walking to the finish line of 2020–21.

"On Wednesday," a nearby elementary school principal emailed parents last week, "we were asked to 'await further guidance' in planning for 3 ft. distancing. We believe this may be because UFT and DOE have not reached an agreement on the distancing change. We cannot move forward until this is resolved." (In classic New York misgovernance fashion, the DOE immediately disputed this, though the delays on the ground remain.)

As my fellow Brooklyn public-school parent Karol Markowicz observed in the New York Post (with typical bluntness), most schools in the country have opened. "Only the most deformed, broken systems remain closed or only partially open, and Gotham's is among the most ­deformed and broken," she wrote. "Schools are flush with federal dollars. If they aren't open today, it's because they don't want to be."