Children’s learning suffered mightily during the pandemic, primarily because millions of kids were forced to stay at home and attend classes remotely. School closures have been widely criticized by parents and educators for the negative effects they had on student academic performance and psychological well-being, and testing figures released by the federal government on Sept. 1 underscore the heavy price children had to pay as the nation grappled with the coronavirus.
Critics, primarily on the right, are now rewriting history to blame President Joe Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci for the educational setbacks children suffered. Conservatives are blaming Fauci because he was the nation’s top epidemiologist and adviser to both Biden and Donald Trump on ways to stop the coronavirus from spreading — including recommendations on school closures.
Former Fox News host Megyn Kelly has gone on multiple rants, culminating in a recent video screed in which she says, “”F—- you, Dr. Fauci.
First of all, Fauci didn’t set policy, nor did he have the power to do so. All he could do was make recommendations based on a more than five-decade career as an infectious-disease specialist. The decision makers were Trump and Biden, and the bulk of school closures actually occurred on Trump’s watch. There actually was a point early in the pandemic when Trump bragged that he had the power to overrule governors and stop them from reopening schools if he deemed it necessary.
Results of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress show that math and reading performance by 9-year-olds dropped significantly in the school-closure period. Reading skills dropped faster than they have in the past 30 years. Low-income Black and Hispanic students showed the sharpest declines on the nationally standardized test.
Education authorities across the country acknowledged at the time that school closures and remote instruction would hurt children’s learning. Remote teaching was unquestionably a deeply flawed solution, but it’s important to remember how few other options existed at the time. Governors were anxious to get kids back into classrooms and their parents back to their workplaces. But the coronavirus was unrelenting. Every time there was a lull and people tried to restore their normal routines, infection and death rates would skyrocket again.
Kids’ psychological and educational welfare, though important, were not the primary concern. The fear was that kids would be exposed to the coronavirus at school and bring it home to their much more vulnerable parents and grandparents. Teachers also had well-justified concerns for their own health.
Those who possess 20-20 hindsight have a remarkable ability to look into the past in order to judge today’s reality. Critics like Kelly can rewrite history and hurl all the F-bombs they want at Fauci, but the historical fact is that too many lives were at risk to warrant a hasty return of children to their classrooms.
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