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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

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Let me get a show of hands: How many of you do not want schools back in session for in-person classes as soon as it's safe? How many of you think exclusive remote learning is by far the best way to educate kids? How many of you would rather keep teachers and students home for a long time to come?

Hmm. I'm not seeing any hands. That's odd, because Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, among others, seems to think that the only thing standing in the way of getting America's schools back to normal operations is that some people prefer to keep them closed.


"Schools are essential, teachers are essential, kids have got to get back in school," she declared Wednesday. The opposition to reopening this fall, she said, "seems to be centered more around adult needs and issues than it is about what's right for kids."

Donald Trump sees bad faith in state and local officials who decline to return to in-person instruction right away. "They think it's going to be good for them politically, so they keep the schools closed," he charged.

Maybe those officials are listening to their constituents. A recent poll sponsored by the nonpartisan National Parents Union found that 62 percent of parents say school closures will have a negative impact on their kids — but 54 percent nonetheless believe that "schools should remain closed until they are certain there is no health risk, even if it means students fall farther behind."

From the administration's complaints, you might think that teachers love working from the basement trying to instruct kids on Zoom. In fact, teachers didn't go into teaching in order to avoid direct contact with youngsters or to avoid ever leaving the house.

DeVos fails to grasp that the needs of teachers and other staff are not at odds with those of students. Kids may be less susceptible than adults to the more serious effects of the coronavirus, but kids who get it can transmit it to teachers. They can also give it to other kids, who can give it to their parents, grandparents and others living with them. When the adults in a child's life gets a serious illness, guess what? The child will suffer as well.

This simple reality is what makes the rush to reopen schools so shortsighted. You can reopen a school, but if teachers come down with COVID-19, they won't be available to teach in person — and may not be available to teach online. Students will be worse off than if the school had stuck to virtual learning.

An editorial in The Wall Street Journal said that "schools that have reopened in most countries, including Germany, Singapore, Norway, Denmark and Finland, haven't experienced outbreaks." But those countries have done a much better job of containing the virus.

Finland has had half as many total cases as Florida recorded on Thursday alone. On a per capita basis, the United States has four times more infections than Germany and Denmark and eight times more than Finland. The more cases, the greater the risk of spreading the disease in schools.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that schools keep students six feet apart, close off cafeterias and playgrounds and require kids to wear masks. But Mike Pence says he and the president don't want the rules to be "too tough." Even if schools follow the CDC guidelines, enforcing social distancing and face covering will be a formidable daily challenge, if not an impossible one.

There is also the matter of resources. If classrooms can hold only half as many kids as before, twice as many classrooms will be needed to accommodate everyone. Most schools don't have vast amounts of vacant space they can put into service. Nor do they have lots of extra teachers to handle extra classes.

One suggestion is that schools hold classes outdoors. That can work in some places — but it's no solution in September in Houston, Atlanta or Phoenix. Likewise, most of the country is ill-suited for al fresco learning from November through March, which is most of the academic year.

The administration seems far more determined to reopen schools quickly than to reopen them safely. But if schools don't reopen safely, they won't be reopened for long. We will have the worst of both worlds: closed schools and more disease. Plus, some people will die.

Trump and DeVos think they can mandate the resumption of normal school operations. They forget that the virus has a veto.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was on CNN Sunday morning with Jake Tapper on his State of the Union show. In part because Democratic reps, like Republican reps, going on Sunday shows is about this coming election, and in part because newscasters are not particularly deep or creative when it comes to talking about politics, Tapper decided to spend a lot of time trying to get Ocasio-Cortez to attack Joe Biden for their differences of political opinions. Newsflash: Ocasio-Cortez, progressive hero, co-author of the ambitious Green New Deal environmental package, and Vice President Joe Biden aren't exactly on the same page as to how to handle climate change.

More to the point, Tapper asked Ocasio-Cortez whether or not she was bothered by the fact that Biden has not said he would outright ban fracking. The move to ban fracking in states across the country has been a seesaw battle of fossil fuel interests fighting against progressive environmentalism and science. Biden's refusal to provide full-throated support for a ban on fracking is disappointing to many of us on the left, but it isn't surprising. Even more importantly, it is below the most essential first step the progressive movement—and the country for that matter—needs to take: getting rid of Donald Trump and getting rid of the Republican majority in the Senate.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez isn't going to be pulled into a pointless argument about fracking with Jake Tapper. Her position is well-reported. So is Biden's. AOC explains very clearly that this is how politics work in a representative democracy.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: It does not bother me. I believe, and I have a very strong position on fracking. You know, the science is very clear, the methane emissions from fracking are up to 64 times more powerful than CO2 emissions and trapping heat in the air, and just from a perspective of stopping climate change there is a scientific consensus. However, that is my view. Vice President Biden has made very clear that he does not agree with the fracking ban and I consider that, you know—it will be a privilege to lobby him should we win the White House but we need to focus on winning the White House first. I am happy to make my case but I also understand he is in disagreement on that issue.

Tapper wonders whether this will depress the youth vote, a vote that AOC represents more closely than Biden. This, of course, is literally the only reason Trump and his surrogates have been bringing up this difference of positions the last couple of weeks. The hope is that it will depress the more progressive vote, while spooking some more conservative-leaning folks in fossil-fuel heavy states like Pennsylvania and Texas. Ocasio-Cortez points out that the youth vote over the past couple of years has not simply become more sophisticated since 2016, it has brought in more progressive candidates and officials into local elections. The turnout in 2018 showed that, and Ocasio-Cortez believes that this election is very clearly a choice between Donald Trump, someone who is a non-starter of a human being, and Joe Biden.

Tapper then plays a clip of Biden telling reporters that he isn't "getting rid of fossil fuels for a long time," but that he's talking about getting rid of the subsidies the fake free-marketeers enjoy in the fossil fuel industry. While Tapper is hoping that this will illustrate how Biden isn't AOC and the youth vote may be turned off by this statement, she sees it as an important step in the right direction.

REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: When he says we are eliminating subsidies, I think that is, frankly, an important first step. A lot of folks who like to tout themselves as free market capitalists, while still trying to make sure they get as much government subsidy, and propping up of the fossil fuel industry as possible. ... If you do believe in markets, solar and renewable energies are growing less and less expensive by the day in many areas. They are starting to become less expensive than fossil fuels. When you eliminate government subsidies, it becomes more difficult for fossil fuels to compete in the market. I think while the vice president wants to make sure that he is not doing it by government mandate or regulation. I do believe that we are moving towards that future. I believe that there's a way and that we should push that process along but again, the vice president and my disagreements are, I believe, recorded and that is quite all right.