Education secretary: Sorry, I won't guarantee that schools will be open by fall

I missed this last week when it first aired but thankfully the Free Beacon didn’t. I’m dying to know what sort of COVID numbers this guy thinks we might plausibly see in September such that the balance of equities would counsel keeping kids home to start another school year. Watch, then read on.

We’re vaccinating people at such a tremendous clip lately (with further room for improvement as the supply increases) that the Times’s vaccine tracker now estimates that we could hypothetically administer first doses to 90 percent of the population by July 24. I say “hypothetically” because we’ll probably never convince 90 percent of the public to agree to the jab, and even if we could get all adults onboard, children won’t be vaccinated until next year. Still, you take my point. By this summer, a great majority of American adults will be at least 80 percent immune, as that’s how much protection a single dose of Pfizer and Moderna delivers. Teachers, of course, are already eligible in many states as a matter of special priority, in order to hasten the reopening of schools.

So, question: What’s the scenario realistically in which Cardona’s looking at infection rates in September and thinking, “Yeah, I don’t know about bringing kids back”? We should easily have reached the point by then in which every adult who wants the vaccine has gotten it. Any teacher who’s still unimmunized, any community in which the virus is spreading, has chosen that path of their own volition. There’s no moral case for punishing kids in that situation by keeping them out of school in order to protect the holdouts.

The only development I can imagine in which there’d even be an argument for keeping kids home longer is if a variant arises that’s breaking through the vaccine and/or threatening the health of kids themselves. But the more adults are vaccinated, the less likely it becomes that variants will emerge. We should be in a better position this fall with respect to variants too.

If Cardona’s hedging now, in other words, it can only be for political reasons. He doesn’t know how agreeable the teachers unions will be about to returning to work in September and doesn’t want to make any promises today that end up going unfulfilled. Karol Markowicz wrote this morning about New York City’s experience with that same problem. When did New Yorkers elect the head of the teachers union to set school policy, she wonders?

The anti-science union has been at the forefront of ruining schooling in the Big Apple, far beyond the distancing rules. It was the ­union, after all, that extracted a moronic 3-percent-positivity trigger for shuttering schools — ­including in Manhattan, where the healthy and wealthy love to test frequently.

The World Health Organization and other bodies have rejected the 3-percent threshold as too low, but in New York, [UTF President Mike] Mulgrew is the highest authority on such matters.

In Gotham, moreover, two unrelated cases among the staff or student body in a school building in seven days immediately results in up-to-10-day closures. The rule doesn’t consider how many people are in the building. It doesn’t matter if a school serves 20 or 2,000 kids.

Coupled with random testing, schools are constantly closing for two-week stretches thanks to this rule.

It’s plausible that New York City schools will still be shutting down sporadically this fall under the “three percent rule” even though every teacher who wants to be vaccinated will have gotten his or her shots by then and students, especially younger students, almost never have bad outcomes from infection. The only hope parents have is the calendar: We’ll be a year out from the midterms this fall and Republicans will be amped up to attack Democrats who drag their feet on school reopenings. Biden’s been very careful not to cross the unions so far but electoral reality means he won’t have that luxury forever.

I’ll leave you with this map from Burbio of where all 50 states stand on school reopenings. It’s indexed to show the mix of schools that are holding class entirely remotely versus hybrid instruction versus in-class learning. There’s a striking divide between blue states and red states. All of the states with an “index” of 60 or less are blue states and all of those with an index of 80 or better — save one, Vermont — are red. Blue states are more cautious about reopening in general, but it’s no coincidence that governments more beholden to unions are going much more slowly in bringing kids back.