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© REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Schools closed by the pandemic in the US may not open in the fall. Student and teacher safety is the latest issue to become politicized in the presidential election campaign, as both parties insist science is on their side.

"We have to open our schools," said President Donald Trump, who on Tuesday called the decision of the biggest school district in California not to reopen for in-person classes a "mistake."

"You should find yourself a new person whoever is in charge of that decision because it's a terrible decision," Trump told CBS News.

Vice President Mike Pence echoed the sentiment during a roundtable at Louisiana State University, saying that reopening schools is "what's best for our students, our families, our economy and our Nation."

The very thought of it is anathema to the Democrats, however. According to CNN, the idea that schools can reopen safely "has been dismissed as fantasy by top teachers unions and medical organizations."


Randi Wengarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told CNN that this is playing "with kids' lives," adding that adding that Florida and Texas wanting to reopen as normal is "clearly a pressure campaign by the administration... because they look, frankly, at schools as if it was child care as opposed to education."

Yet the argument cited by Democrats for not locking down schools initially was precisely that many American families rely on public schools for child care they could otherwise not afford, and that school meals meant a lot to poorer families, whose number has only increased due to the pandemic.

There is a layer of irony in the particular positions of both parties, as Republicans have traditionally been in favor of more online classes and homeschooling while Democrats have invested in teacher unions and making universities and public schools a bastion of their ideas about social justice.

It's not just elementary schools and kindergartens at stake. Many universities have announced they will return in an online-only format in September - though at full price of tuition, of course.

A clarification from US immigration authorities that this would invalidate visas of international students - contingent on attending full-time classes in person - led to lawsuits by Democrat attorneys-general of California and other states, as well as several Ivy League schools, seeking to protect a major revenue stream. The guidelines were rescinded without explanation on Tuesday.

The rhetoric around school reopenings is increasingly mirroring the one about relaxing the initial lockdowns, down to the "human sacrifice" trope first used against Georgia.

One side argues that Republicans want children and teachers to die, while the other responds that the supposedly selfless teachers are being selfish in demanding absolute safety for themselves, while children are not at risk from the virus at all.

There is also a growing suspicion that extending school closures and reintroducing lockdowns is intended to keep the economy throttled and Americans angry enough to vote against Trump in November.

Democrats insist that science is on their side, pointing to the spike in positive tests from Florida, Texas and Arizona - all Republican-run states - as proof that reopenings were too hasty.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, just announced a second lockdown.

Defending the decision to not reopen in-person classes, Los Angeles school district superintendent Austin Beutner said that "the health and safety of all in the school community is not something we can compromise."

Yet infections did not spike after the reopenings, but following the mass protests - and riots - that raged across America for much of June. The same experts now worried about reopenings had backed the protests, saying racism is a greater public health problem than Covid-19.

Proponents of school reopening have also invoked science, pointing to information from Europe and China suggesting that children are almost entirely unaffected by the virus and don't actually spread the disease to adults.

"Keeping schools closed while awaiting a vaccine isn't an acceptable alternative," a Wall Street Journal editorial argued on Monday.

It cited the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics that not opening schools will actually harm the health and well-being of children. Pediatricians interviewed by MSNBC overwhelmingly favored school reopening.


Throughout the pandemic, Democrats and the mainstream media have chosen to oppose anything Trump says while placing blind faith in the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci. People like Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser have declared "In Fauci we trust" in order to mandate the wearing of face masks, for example.

Fauci was assumed to be in favor of keeping the schools closed - until he wasn't. On Tuesday, he said at an event hosted by Georgetown University that the decision should be left to local officials, but that "We should try, as the default, to get the kids to stay in school."

Whether the lockdown advocates will continue to "stand with Fauci" after that remains to be seen.