The Corner


Everyone Wants Public Schools to Reopen, except the People Who Run Them

A student attends a virtual class as limited in-person learning resumes at Wilson Primary School, Phoenix, Ariz., August 17, 2020. (Cheney Orr/Reuters)

The editorial board of the Washington Post declares that public schools should reopen and get children back into the classroom.

Remote learning has failed to provide anything approaching the quality of education that can be delivered by a teacher in a classroom. Evidence of the failures, particularly for children already at risk, is matched by growing evidence of the relative safety of in-person learning when proper precautions are in place. The combination should spur officials to devise plans to get students back in the classroom.

In the District of Columbia, public schools are tentatively scheduled to open in “early February.” Alexandria, Va., will “phase in” students in January and February.  In Fairfax County, Va., the reopening for grades three to six has been pushed back about a week, to January 12. Middle and high schoolers are still scheduled for January 26. Montgomery County, Md.,, expects to begin the “phased blended model” for public schools by February 1.

The Post editorial offers a depressingly honest assessment of what truly motivates education decisions in the region:

We recently asked a top official in a Washington-area jurisdiction, who insisted on anonymity, why there wasn’t more of a push to figure out ways to return children to the classroom. The answer was that there is no political pressure. Parents of means can give their children the help and resources they need or switch them to a private school; parents of minority or disadvantaged students with the most to lose have the least clout. Vaccines are on the horizon, but students already have lost too much time. Dr. Fauci is right: “Close the bars and keep the schools open.”

Among those “of means” who have switched their child to private school is $236,000-per-year superintendent of Alexandria public schools Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr., who withdrew his daughter from Alexandria’s T.C. Williams High School and enrolled her at Bishop Ireton High School, a Catholic school, where tuition is roughly $17,000 a year. His son remains enrolled in the Alexandria public-school system. Alexandria public schools’ distance learning, flaws and all, will have to be good enough for most Alexandria families . . . even though it isn’t good enough for the superintendent’s daughter.

Back in 2017, I noted that the public-school system in my old hometown of Alexandria was not quite as excellent as the community’s wealth would suggest: “As a whole, Alexandria residents have considerable wealth, but the wealthiest parents don’t send their children to public school, at least in part because the city has some of the region’s best private schools. The students who remain in the public-school system, particularly at the high-school level, disproportionately represent the city’s poorer residents. In fact, more than half of the city’s public-school students qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school.”

The Washington, D.C., area, encompassing the suburbs in Maryland and northern Virginia, is largely, if not quite monolithically, blue or Democratic-leaning. The blue-city and blue-state model is much more flawed than its adherents will ever admit — particularly when it comes to ensuring equality of opportunity and quality education for every child. For those with the most influence in the D.C. region, below-par public schools — and a substandard distance-learning system — are someone else’s problem. Even the superintendent will opt out when given the opportunity.


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