Tag Archives: Lily Esckelsen-Garcia

Reopening Schools Issues and Evidence

21 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/21/2020

The President of the United States and his Secretary of Education have demanded schools open with in-person classes five days a week. Many parents are not confident their children will be safe and significant numbers of teachers are profoundly frightened. How does the rhetoric square with credible scientific evidence concerning the Covid-19 pandemic?

President Trump has tweeted,

“In Germany, Denmark, Norway,  Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS. The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!”

Michelle Goldberg of the NY Times wrote, “… with their crude attempts at coercion, they’ve politicized school reopening just as Trump politicized mask-wearing and hydroxychloroquine.”

Goldberg goes on to cite American Federation of Teacher President, Randi Weingarten, as saying the administration just made reopening schools more difficult. Randi described Trumps threats to withhold school funding as “empty, but the distrust they have caused is not.”

Weingarten also reported hearing from many teachers who are concerned that reopening would be done rashly.

In an USA Today opinion piece, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the President of America’s largest teachers’ union, charged, “… the Trump administration’s plan is appallingly reckless.” She also points out that the vast majorities of American schools have not returned to their 2008 funding levels and have lain off more than 300,000 employees.

Garcia argues that the Covid-19 induced revenue crisis is making opening schools safely impossible during the accelerating contagion.

Officials within the Trump administration are confidently claiming opening schools can be done safely. At a White House conference on reopening schools, Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services stated, “We can get back to school safely.” Regarding concerns that many schools do not meet Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance, he stated, “CDC guidance is guidance and no-one should use it not to reopen schools.”

At the same conference, the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Dr. Sally Goza, said AAP “strongly advocates schools open safely.” She stated that “children are less likely to be infected” and “less likely to spread the virus.”

Goza contends that it is critically important for students to be physically present as long as safety measures can be maintained. She added that schools need more resources.

President Trump’s top economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, recently stated, “If we don’t reopen the schools that would be a setback to a true economic recovery.”

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says “It’s not a matter of if schools should reopen, it’s simply a matter of how.”

The Department of Education under DeVos’s leadership is pushing back against charges that they are politicizing school opening. A released statement said, “if anyone is politicizing this issue it’s the unions, who are Democrats’ operatives, who are fear-mongering and denying the science that says it’s safe and better for kids’ overall health to be back in school.”

Republican state administrations in Iowa and Florida have mandated that all schools in their states reopen 5-days a week with in person instruction.

In California, Democratic Governor, Gavin Newsom has ordered all schools in counties on the coronavirus “watch list” to open online only. That covers about 80% of the students in the nation’s most populous state.

The Washington Post’s Matt Viser reports that Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden has called for flexibility with reopening schools. Biden asserts, “If we do this wrong, we will put lives at risk and set our economy and our country back.”

Viser sums up Biden’s just released plan,

“Biden urged caution, saying that each district should make its own decisions based on local conditions, and that schools in areas with high infection rates should not reopen too soon. He also called on Congress to pass new emergency funding to help the schools.”

These confusing claims and counterclaims motivate looking into the best evidence the scientific community can provide.

What the Evidence Shows

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that “science should not stay in the way of school reopening.” She cited a Journal of the American Medical Association pediatrics study that found the risk of critical illness from Covid-19 for children is far less than the seasonal flu.

She stated, “The science is on our side here.” And added that states need to “simply follow the science” and open schools.

However, McEnany, did not make it clear that the study she cited involved just 48 children treated in U.S. and Canadian intensive care units. It is true that most were not critically ill but 18 needed ventilator treatment and two died.

Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, has noted that several studies from Europe and Asia have suggested that young children are less likely to get infected and to spread the virus. However, he says like the study McEnany cited, those studies are mostly small and flawed.

There is a new study that Dr. Jha describes as “one of the best studies we’ve had to date on this issue.”

The CDC has posted the study, Contact Tracing during Coronavirus Disease Outbreak, South Korea, 2020”, to its website. This large scale study looked at 59,073 contacts traced from 5,706 covid-19 confirmed patients between January 20 and March 27, 2020.

Korean Study Table 2

Korean Study Data Table Indexed by Patient Age

The important point in this table is that infants do transmit covid-19 but at a lower rate (between 1.3% and 13.7%). However, middle school and high school aged children transmitted the disease at a rate equal to all of the older groupings.

In the paper’s literature study, the authors observe, “… a recent report from Shenzhen, China, showed that the proportion of infected children increased during the outbreak from 2% to 13%, suggesting the importance of school closure.”

Schools have been reopening in various countries since this spring. A key characteristic that countries reopening schools took into consideration was virus transmission rates. Solid testing regimes and contract testing were believed essential.

The following table used reopening transmission rates data from a post by Dr. Nan Fulcher and Justin Parmenter plus the transmission rates for July 17th which were derived using the John Hopkins University Covid-19 Dashboard and Worldometer population data.

Covid Per 10,000 Foreign table

All of the counties in the table above with the exception of Israel have maintained low transmission rates while opening schools. In the Israeli case, The University of Washington Department of Global Health reports,

“Two weeks after school re-opening, COVID-19 outbreaks were observed in classrooms, including 130 cases in one school alone. By June 3, there were 200 confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 244 positive SARS-CoV-2 tests among students and staff across multiple schools.”

“Due to the crowded nature of the schools system, physical distancing of students within schools has not been widely adopted and control measures have focused on closing schools with reported cases, extensive testing, and quarantine of students and staff with a potential SARS-CoV-2 exposure.”

In his push to reopen schools, President Trump claims that many countries reopened school with no problem. That seems to be mostly true, however, it omits saying many counties did have issues. New Century Foundation Fellow, Connor Williams notes,

Aside from some early public-health setbacks, France has been able to keep schools open. But other communities have not been so lucky. Israel reclosed some schools after a spike in covid-19 cases. Beijing recently shuttered its schools again as the pandemic returned.”

While it does seem possible to safely reopen schools based on the experience of countries around the globe, the United States faces two major unresolved obstacles; facilities need upgrading and transmission rates need to be controlled.

The following Covid-19 transmission rates were calculated using data from Wikipedia’s 2020 population estimates and the John Hopkins Covid-19 Dashboard.

Covid Per 10,000 table

In addition to this data showing that in most states the Covid-19 transmission rates are ghastly, school facilities on average are in terrible shape.

The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine just issued guidance for reopening schools. The Academies chair for the study, Enriqueta Bond, stated, “One of the shocks to me is that over 50 percent of the school buildings are awful.”

New York Times reporter Apoorva Mandavilli shared in a report on the Academies’ guidance, “Some 54 percent of public school districts need to update or replace facilities in their school buildings, and 41 percent should replace heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems in at least half of their schools, according to an analysis by the Government Accountability Office.”

The Academies guidance says the cost of retrofits will total approximately $1.8 million for a school district with eight school buildings and around 3,200 students.

The evidence shows that most of America is not ready to reopen schools. The retrofits have not been started and the needed financing has not been approved. Transmission rates are out of control.

The Conclusion of Professionals

New York public school teacher, Christine Vaccaro, published an opinion piece in USA Today. Her ending statement is prescient:

“Abandoned by any semblance of national leadership during a raging pandemic, students, teachers and staff are being told to jump into the deep end and return to school buildings. They will be risking their lives and their families’ lives, and endangering their communities to do so. All the precious time and resources spent to implement hybrid models and social distancing protocols will be washed away with the building’s first positive COVID-19 case. Then it will be a hard pivot back home, using the same scattershot remote learning practices developed in an emergency.

“That is why the smartest, most practical strategy is marshaling energy and dollars into developing as robust and equitable a remote learning plan as possible. This is far from ideal. We know remote teaching is not even remotely teaching. But it will save lives, offer the most consistent education for our children this fall — and provide a solid foundation on which to build a stronger hybrid model, later in the year.”

New Century Foundation Fellow, Connor Williams, ended his article succinctly,

It’s time to face the central fact of a pandemic: There’s no way to pretend our way around flattening the curve. Until we actually stop the virus’s spread, efforts to reopen schools in most communities will fail.”

Lily’s Betrayal Letter

5 Oct

Yesterday was the worst of days and best of days. In the morning as usual I checked email and social media and there was Steven Singer’s post, “Teachers Told They’re Endorsing Hillary Clinton by NEA Leadership. Membership Opinions Unnecessary.” When I finished his post I saw my friend Paula Meyers had posted the Seattle area justice fighter, Susan Dufresne’s graphic #NEADoesntSpeak4Me; that caught my emotion exactly. With this in mind, I went to the Kearny Mesa Buddhist Center for World Peace Prayer. In the afternoon, things seemed improved; the San Diego Chargers won an exciting game over the Cleveland Browns.

NEADoesntSpeak4Me

Then I got an email message from Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, president of the NEA. Lily has been a great disappointment to me. It is not her fault. It’s mine. I believed she was a breath of fresh air who rose to the leadership of the NEA by merit and was willing to speak truth to power. Fooled again! Then this April in Chicago she stood on stage and lied to us. She pledged to no longer take money from Bill Gates but her fingers were crossed. Now, she employed power politics to get Hilary Clinton the NEA endorsement; personal power and influence have trumped democracy, public education and the teaching profession. I will attempt to analyze her message.

“My fellow educators,
I wanted to be the first to let you know that your elected representatives to the NEA PAC Council and the NEA Board of Directors took action to recommend Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary for President of the United States. I am so proud of the thoughtful, thorough and incredibly rich discussion that your elected leaders held. It was truly what democracy looks like.”

Balderdash! I live in California, my elected representatives didn’t even vote. We have the largest delegation in the United States.
I heard that you argued against those who said there is no reason to give our endorsement this early, saying we would lose political clout if we don’t. It is also said that you felt that Bernie Sanders would never be able to mount a credible winning general election effort.

“I am also extremely proud of this decision because I know that Hillary is a strong leader who will do what’s best for the future of all of America’s students and public schools.”

Anthony Cody is correct, clear and succinct on this point: “The current field of candidates in the Democratic party is limited to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Clinton has a close association with the Gates Foundation, which has been a major donor to the Clinton Foundation. Clinton has made it clear that she is a solid supporter of the Common Core and believes that such a testing system ‘helps you organize your whole education system.’ So if we want a change from the nation’s current trajectory in education, we need to look elsewhere.”

It is beyond my most optimistic reach to see Hilary Clinton as being more than marginally different than Barack Obama when it comes to education policy. There is a reason that Marc Tucker wrote the infamous ‘Hilary Letter’ to her. He saw a like-minded individual that would support the tenets for education reform that Diane Ravitch later labeled “corporate education reform.” This is education reform that views students as economic assets to be cultivated for the benefit of the state.

“After an extensive review of the candidates and an in-depth discussion, your leaders saw what I know – Hillary Clinton will be a champion for students and educator in the White House. She has a 30 year history of standing up for students and strong public schools and has actively engaged in conversations with educators in this campaign. Secretary Clinton told your leaders today that she won’t make a single decision about developing education policy without educators being in the room.”

This is complete prevarication. She has a close supportive relationship with both Bill Gates and Eli Broad. She was billed as co-President by her husband when he signed legislation taking power from Washington DC’s school board and authorizing charter schools. It was from that administration that we got “Goals 2000” and its call for national standards and testing. She voted for “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB). That is not a 30-year history of standing up for students and strong public schools. And her friends from her days as a member of the Board of Directors at Walmart have to be counted among the nations biggest enemies of public schools.

“As a U.S. Senator, Hillary Clinton was a champion for our cause, earning an “A” grade from the NEA for her support on the issues most important to our students, but even before serving in the Senate, Clinton was a champion of the students we educate. While every first lady has an admirable cause, Hillary chose to stand up to the for-profit healthcare industry to advocate for children’s healthcare. Her campaign ultimately led to the largest expansion of public health care in decades, when millions of American children received health coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).”

Clinton voted for the punitive anti-teacher NCLB in 2001. This March, Edweek reported: “And earlier this year, the American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed Clinton in her 2008 race, and the Center for American Progress, a think tank closely aligned with the Obama administration that also includes some former Clinton aides among its top ranks, came out with a proposal to test students every year, but only use the results for school accountability in certain grade spans.” So, did she get that NEA “A” grade for supporting testing or was it her work on health care?

“Even before running for president, Hillary championed early education and affordable college, and she sponsored efforts to ensure equal pay for equal work and to make it easier for workers to join a union.”

This sounds like pretty much what all Democrats say they stand for and it is hard to see how this makes her so much better than other Democrats vying for the nomination. Why didn’t the NEA keep its powder dry and see who was willing to save public education form greed driven reform? Get some real and substantial commitments? It appears that this endorsement is more about currying favor for national union leaders with the Clinton’s than it is about fighting for teachers and public education.

“And in 2016, the stakes for strong public schools will be too high to sit on the sidelines! Right now, there are presidential hopefuls who have made a career of attacking educators and public education to the detriment of students. They have allies like the Koch brothers, who have committed to spend $1 billion to defeat a pro-public education candidate like Hillary Clinton and taking control of the White House.

“With so much at stake, you cannot sit on the sidelines – America’s students need you today! And that is why I am asking you to join our campaign stand up for our students and make sure that we give all students the opportunity to a quality education.”

Yes, it is true that a lot of money is being spent to destroy public education in America. Unfortunately, a lot of that money is from people like the hedge fund fake democrats at the Democrats for Education Reform who support Hilary. There is nothing here that says she is clearly the champion for public education that we must support. She looks a lot more like a corporate education reformer who will continue the disastrous Obama agenda.

“Together, we can help elect Hillary Clinton as our next president and ensure that every child has the opportunity to succeed.
Gracias,
– Lily
Lily Eskelsen Garcia
National Education Association President”

Lily, you need to rethink your course. You are a smart beautiful spokesperson for the NEA. You are dumping that great opportunity to make a real difference and playing value degrading power politics that has eliminated the democratic process in our union to get this endorsement. Two other major unions – the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – have indicated that they will take more time to consult their members about an endorsement in the primary.