Talking Points

Conservatives aren't the only ones mad about school closures

The backlash against public school closures during the pandemic has continued — and despite the clear role the subject played in Republican Glenn Youngkin's gubernatorial win in Virginia, it isn't limited to conservatives.

David Leonhardt of The New York Times wrote a widely circulated Twitter thread Tuesday on the consequences of many COVID-19 educational shifts for children, noting poorer learning outcomes, behavioral problems, even suicides and violence. "Data now suggest that many changes to school routines are of questionable value," Leonhard wrote. "Some researchers are skeptical that school closures even reduce COVID cases. Other interventions, like forcing students to sit apart from their friends at lunch, may also have little benefit."  Black students, whose parents are a core Democratic constituency, are hurting disproportionately. So are Hispanic students.

We've known all this for a while. "Results from a standardized test taken by elementary and middle school students earlier this school year paint a bleak picture of the harm the pandemic inflicted on their learning," Jessica Calefati reported in Politico last month. 

But until recently, disagreements over school closures were cast as a left-right culture war fight, with Republicans reaping the immediate electoral benefits. Hispanic parents are increasingly drifting away from Democrats. It's entirely possible that issues like critical race theory in public schools would never have come to the forefront of last year's campaign if Virginians weren't already scrutinizing school closures. And it is teacher's unions, a bastion of Democratic politics, who are seen as keeping teachers and students home.

There is, however, more to the issue than that. "For the past two years ... many communities in the U.S. have not really grappled with the trade-off," Leonhardt wrote. "They have accepted more harm to children in exchange for less harm to adults, often without acknowledging the dilemma or assessing which decisions lead to less overall harm."

President Biden has consistently taken the position that schools should be open, a stance he reiterated Tuesday. But, as with defunding the police, Biden's policies won't necessarily outweigh progressive activism in public perception of his party.