If this is what we end up with by the end of April, says Philip Klein, it’ll be a “complete catastrophe.” Indeed, and no amount of BSing by Psaki when it happens will convince people otherwise.

We’re 20 days into the Biden era and we’ve already played this “absurdly low expectations” game with controlling the pandemic once before. Remember that Team Joe’s initial target for vaccinations was 100 million doses by Day 100, a rate of one million per day. On Inauguration Day, thanks to the efforts of Team Trump, we did … 1.6 million doses. We’ve exceeded one million daily every day since then save one. By setting his target so ridiculously low, Biden all but guaranteed that he’d be able to say “mission accomplished” by his hundredth day even if all he did was stick to the system he inherited from Trump.

We’re doing it again now on schools. Biden said in December that he wanted a majority of schools open by the end of his first 100 days. But then, the day after Inauguration Day, the goalposts moved — he specified that he meant grades K-8, not necessarily high school. Now watch as the goalposts move again, from getting grades K-8 open to getting them open, uh, one day a week:

At least they’re sticking by their goal of opening up more than half of schools by then. But there’s a catch there too. A familiar one:

Once again, as they did with vaccines, the Biden White House is setting the bar below the pace the U.S. has already reached. If Psaki had said the president wants half of all schools to have K-8 in class *full time* by April 30, that would be something to shoot for. By instead aiming for one day a week, all she’s doing is looking to maintain the status quo.

Periodically in writing about schools and COVID, I update you on the latest numbers from Brown University’s ongoing study of infection rates for students and staff. The numbers are now in for the second half of January:

Cases in the general community: 61/100,000
Cases among school staff: 63/100,000
Cases among students: 32/100,000

That’s based on data for nearly five million students and more than a million staff. Bottom line: Kids in class are still significantly less likely to test positive than people in the community at large are, and school staff are only very slightly more likely to do so. There’s just no special risk to teachers from being in the classroom.

So why are some school systems already looking at virtual learning in the fall?

The closest I can get to a defensible justification for Biden’s overly conservative (in the bad sense) target on school reopenings is that the British variant is an enormous X factor in their thinking about the trajectory of the U.S. epidemic right now. It’s already here, it’s spreading rapidly, and it’s expected to be the dominant strain in the country as soon as next month. And it appears to be more contagious among children than common COVID. Team Joe may be looking out a few weeks and concluding, not unrealistically, that some cities will be sliding back towards lockdowns to try to contain the new strain. Hopefully that means younger grades can stay open, at least, but it’s conceivable that the spike in cases will be sharp enough that some older grades get sent home again. The shifting goalposts may be a reaction to uncertainty about the variants more so than Team Joe just being unambitious.

Although of course it’s possible that their masters in the teachers unions have already told them to forget about widespread in-person instruction by April 30 and the White House is just trying to figure out a way to let the American public down easy.

Exit question: Some school districts have already begun discussing summer school to try to make up for students’ lost education during the pandemic. Er, whom do they suppose will be teaching those classes? Do they think the unions are going to merrily waive their members’ rights to a three-month summer vacation?