Newsletter (4/9): School Reopenings Are Just Okay

As a communications professional, I spend a lot of time thinking about advertisements and commercials. Whether it’s the reminder of the best part of waking up, the recognition that there are some things money can’t buy, or the predictably similar COVID-era commercials, ad campaigns often play in the background of my mind.

So, I wasn’t surprised this past week when something about California school “reopening” plans felt familiar. We’re hearing many schools are reopening this month, but are they? 

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the return to class begins next week, but it’s far from educational normalcy. Some students’ will be left to work independently on their first day while teachers and staff review safety protocols and schedules. “Focused work” will be limited to three hours. But, they will also enjoy activities like yoga, which may help them calm down after their weekly nasal swab.

San Diego Unified School District’s return appears fluid– to be determined based on how many kids show up to school Monday. In-person teaching will max out at four days a week and may differ by grade level. Fresno Unified School District has allowed children to return two days a week. 

These not-so-open “reopenings” remind me of the AT&T ad campaign: Just OK is Not OK. In a series of commercials, the company reminds us that we wouldn’t accept an OK babysitter or accountant, and we shouldn’t accept an OK wireless network. 

To date, many of the union-negotiated “reopenings” are just OK. California schools remain the least open in the nation, despite the increasing number of vaccinated teachers and staff. 

This is why CPC and the Parent Union are partnering with a group of teachers, parents, and community supporters to remind district leadership that school reopenings need to be real openings. On Tuesday, we’ll meet at the San Diego Education Association offices to call for just that. If you’re in the San Diego area, we encourage you to join us there in person, and if you’re farther away, join us online. All details can be found here.  

Parents are standing up to the unions, calling for a return to school. As I was typing this newsletter, I received word from our friends at California Students United that they’ve filed a lawsuit against LAUSD and Superintendent Beutner to force the district to provide students with an education, and offer a reopening plan aligned with state and county guidelines. A similar suit in San Diego offered parents hope that union control over school openings may soon end.

Speaking of not-so-real reopenings, before you order save-the-dates for your California reopening party, get the full breakdown on what the just-announced reopening entails. California Policy Center’s Brandon Ristoff breaks down Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement this week that California will finally join the growing list of states to reopen their economies – in two months. Though the reopening comes as welcomed news, it’s not quite as good as it seems. The mask mandate will remain in place; workplaces will continue beholden to lingering restrictions; schools “should,” but not “must” reopen; and reopening will only happen after enough time has passed for healthy 16-year-olds – those least likely to experience serious COVID symptoms – have had time to be fully vaccinated.

Perhaps a fully vaccinated populace could come faster if California had competitively bid its vaccine distribution. While much of the national media clutched its pearls this week over a deceptively edited and now widely criticized 60 Minutes segment errantly suggesting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis awarded a vaccine-distribution contract as a favor to a campaign contributor, there were but a few crickets chirping on the west coast. Thanks to research by California Globe’s Katy Grimes, we now know that Newsom awarded at least hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of no-bid contracts to his own donors to distribute vaccines. Does 60 Minutes need Governor Newsom’s phone number for a follow-up interview on the ethical challenges of billion dollar no-bid contracts while he still holds emergency powers a year later?

Despite that media bias, the Florida-California comparison is instructive in pandemic responses and results. I need not remind you that California has led the way in COVID-19 closures, and remains one of the least open economies in the nation. Meanwhile, Florida has been open for months. Even its theme parks welcomed guests long ago, while California’s Disneyland crawls toward its April 30th reopening, sans any semblance of fun. While some critics say Florida reopened too quickly, the data does not. One year in, the numbers and trends follow a similar — almost natural — pattern and show the states experienced similar infection and death rates, despite the reality that one continues to be largely locked down and the other open. When accounting for the fact that Florida has one of the oldest populations and California one of the youngest, the argument can easily be made that Florida has taken the smarter approach – both for the health of its residents and economy. 

In this week’s Radio Free California podcast, CPC’s Will Swaim and David Bahnsen wonder if Kamala Harris is really a California native. Yes, we’ve seen the adorable pictures of her childhood in Oakland. No, we’re not alleging that her birth certificate is fake. We’re just seriously wondering how a lifelong California politician – now Joe Biden’s stunt double – could say publicly, as Harris did on Monday, “Water is a nonpartisan issue.” Harris made the bizarre claim during a stop at Oakland’s Upper San Leandro Water Treatment Plant, “the kind of water-treatment facility that could benefit from the proposed infrastructure plan President Biden unveiled last week.” In fact, as Harris certainly knows, water is among the most partisan subjects in California. Consider just one current example: the delayed construction of a desalination plant in Huntington Beach. Hearing that Gov. Gavin Newsom recently okayed the project, the Los Angeles Times fainted and – when revived with delicate fanning, soothing words, and a snootful of spirit of hartshorn – immediately condemned the plant: Yes, the Times admitted, “the Huntington Beach facility meets the state goal of diversifying California’s water supply,” but “it would undermine other environmental policies.” That, my dear, delicate Los Angeles Times, is precisely the problem. Driven by environmentalists and unions, California’s interlocking web of agencies and regulations make nonpartisan water hyper-partisan – and scarce. In attacking dams, canals, farming, reservoirs, grass, garden hoses, water balloons, swimming pools, flush toilets, culverts, free water at your favorite restaurants, and faucets as instruments of Satan, the Times is merely reflecting the Gospel of the Sierra Club, of course. Not partisan? Water?! As Steven Greenhut writes in the most recent issue of National Review,when it comes to water and California, “the environmentalist lobby is in the driver’s seat, and it [the environmental lobby] sees conservation and rationing as ends in themselves,” as weapons in the war against home construction, agriculture, and population growth – the war against humanity. Consequently, Greenhut notes, California “hasn’t built significant water infrastructure since the 1970s, when its population was half its current 40 million.” The podcast in which this discussion unfolds isn’t only about water or Harris. Will and David also consider San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin, playwright David Mamet, NCAA men’s basketball, Ben Shapiro, Major League Baseball, and the Biden administration’s dangerous plagiarism of failed California policies. Find Radio Free California wherever fine podcasts are available, including the National Review website.

Again with those pesky teachers unions! While Los Angeles kids can only hope for a pathetic “reopening” next week thanks to union recalcitrance, taxpayers will now fork over a subsidy to United Teachers Los Angeles members to cover their own childcare costs. Free childcare was just the latest giveaway the union has extracted from taxpayers on the backs of students. Superintendent Austin Beutner said the district has “done all we can.” If you’ll remember back a few weeks to CPC President Will Swaim’s newsletter, one of the union’s most vocal in insisting on free childcare before returning to work was Maya Suzuki Daniels. She herself previously blasted parents, saying, “I’m tired of parents telling us to open the schools so they can have childcare.” Other unions across the state are making the same demands. We’re looking at you, SEIU in Sacramento City Unified School District

One CA school district demonstrated a rare bit of sanity this week. The San Francisco Board of Education’s latest attempt to plant its ever-inclusive flag squarely in the woke camp has led it on a furious mission to erase any mention of figures who may have offended someone once upon a time in history. The board will officially hold off on renaming over 40 schools until it has tended to more important matters, like educating kids. Seeing as the district and union are only committing to a full reopening by fall, Dianne Feinstein Elementary School can wait to order new spirit shirts, and George Washington and Abraham Lincoln can hold off rolling in their graves a bit longer. 

And, lest I leave you completely discouraged on this Friday, know that the collective teacher-union-nonsense is having one fantastic side effect: it’s spurring educational freedom efforts across the country. As CPC’s Larry Sand details, more than ever before, parents are rejecting public schools that have failed their children this past year, and instead choosing alternative forms of education. This year alone, an encouraging 50 school choice bills have been introduced in a majority of states. They include efforts to allow parents to take some of the money that would be spent on their child’s public education, and use it to cover charter, private, or home school costs; education tax credits; increased vouchers and scholarships; and more. Efforts are even about here in California, which you’ll be hearing more about from us in the coming weeks. 

 

Chantal

 

Chantal Lovell is the Communications Director at the California Policy Center. 

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