Finally: There should be no need for remote or hybrid learning at this point, says Biden's education secretary

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

I wonder how much the timing of this notable admission depends on the outcome in Virginia last Tuesday night.

Maybe it doesn’t. It’s not just the politics of school closures that have changed recently, after all: All children five and older are now eligible for vaccination against COVID. Kids, particularly young kids, were never at meaningful risk of serious illness but they could always catch the virus at school and pass it on at home to a vulnerable adult.


Now that their parents can hedge against that risk by getting their children vaccinated, there’s nothing left of the already thin argument for closing schools to prevent transmission. Get vaccinated, get your kids vaccinated, and put ’em on the school bus. COVID will probably never enter your home. And even if it does, the whole family will almost certainly be fine.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Tuesday that it “wasn’t a mistake” to keep schools closed for as long as they were throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, an issue that has become one of the biggest flashpoints in the U.S.

In an interview with “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan, Cardona said that communities have all the tools they need going forward to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and there should be “no need” for remote or hybrid learning.

“We should be controlling community spread and the places that are not doing it well, we’re seeing it,” Cardona said. “But going back to that question more globally, it’s really important to note that every community is a little bit different.”…

Cardona said “the younger they are, the more hesitancy there will be” when asked about vaccine hesitancy among younger students. He added that it’s the Department of Education’s role to communicate effectively to parents that the vaccination “is the best thing they can do to protect their children.”


I’m not sure I agree that it’s the “Department of Education’s role” to sell parents on COVID vaccination. And reading that closely, it seems he’s leaving the door open to shutting schools again. When he says there should be no need for remote learning, he appears to mean “if everyone is doing their part by getting vaccinated to slow the spread.” But not every community will do its part. And many millions of parents — the great majority, at least initially — will hold off on vaccinating their young children for fear of as yet unknown side effects.

If infections start ticking up in an area with a low vaccination rate, what does Cardona recommend the local school administration do? Stay open to avert further learning loss, trusting that parents spooked by the rising case counts will change their minds and get their kids vaxxed? Or close down to try to pressure parents into giving their kids the jab?

We all know who calls the shots on public education when Democrats run the country so this is notable too:

That’s the safest approach for Dems in nudging parents to vaccinate their kids. Shutting down schools due to an outbreak risks another Virginia-style backlash. But mandating vaccines in schools, especially for younger kids, will infuriate moms and dads who are apprehensive about subjecting their little ones to a new vaccine. The obvious compromise is to incentivize families rather than penalize them. If your kid is vaxxed, he never has to mask up or quarantine, even if there’s an outbreak. That should be the policy.


Speaking of which, the White House has numbers today from the first week of child vaccinations. It turns out there are a bit less than one million families in the U.S. willing to be early adopters on mRNA immunizations for children:

Now nearly 20,000 pharmacies, clinics and physicians’ offices are administering the doses to younger kids, and the Biden administration estimates that by the end of Wednesday more than 900,000 of the kid doses will have been administered. Additionally about 700,000 first-shot appointments are also scheduled for the coming days.

About 28 million 5 to 11 year-olds are now eligible for the low-dose Pfizer vaccine. Kids who get their first of two shots by the end of next week will be fully vaccinated by Christmas.

The administration is encouraging schools to host vaccine clinics on site to make it even easier for kids to get shots. The White House is also asking schools to share information from “trusted messengers” like doctors and public health officials to combat misinformation around the vaccines.

Assuming all of the scheduled appointments are kept, more than five percent of the 5-11 group will have had their first shots within the first two weeks of the vaccine being authorized. The next five percent after that will be harder, and every percentage point thereafter will be harder than that. I wouldn’t normally say that Ted Cruz speaks for the median American voters but he probably does on this subject:


“Nobody really knows what the effects of this vaccine [will be] 10 years later” is the logic that will carry the day even though one could just as easily argue that nobody really knows what the effects of infection by a novel virus will be on unvaccinated children 10 years later. We do have some short-term experience with the effect of COVID on kids, though: Rarely do they land in the hospital and almost never do they die from exposure per the first 18 months of the pandemic. Some parents will inevitably warm up to the idea of vaccinating young kids after a few months pass and there are few reports of weird side effects, but in general I think Cruz is right. Outside of the bluest jurisdictions, like California, COVID vaccine mandates for children aren’t happening. Which means fans of school closures will still have an argument in their back pocket for shutting down when outbreaks happen.


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