One of the many executive orders that has come in President Joe Biden’s first few days in office addresses the Covid pandemic and the thorny issue of reopening schools.
Entitled, “Executive Order on Supporting the Reopening and Continuing Operation of Schools and Early Childhood Education Providers,” the order issued Jan. 21 may instead create a number of new regulatory barriers to schools reopening.
It orders the Secretary of Education to “provide, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, evidence-based guidance” on “how to remain open, for in-person learning; and in safely conducting in-person learning, including by implementing mitigation measures such as cleaning, masking, proper ventilation, and testing…”
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Of those, “proper ventilation” stands out.
According to the Centers for Disease Control guidance on air ventilation, public buildings should “Consider ventilation system upgrades or improvements and other steps to increase the delivery of clean air and dilute potential contaminants. Obtain consultation from experienced Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) professionals when considering changes to HVAC systems and equipment… The ventilation intervention considerations listed above come with a range of initial costs and operating costs which, along with risk assessment parameters such as community incidence rates, facemask compliance expectations and room occupant density, may affect considerations for which interventions are implemented.”
Additionally, a new 200-page report on Covid response from the Biden administration states, “In the coming weeks, FEMA, in consultation with ED and CDC, will work with states and local governments to utilize disaster relief funds to address barriers to school reopening, including purchase of masks and sanitizing products, as well as necessary emergency changes to school ventilation.”
Essentially, the Biden administration is proposing to retrofit 130,000 schools across the country. In addition, President Biden is calling for an additional $130 billion of funding from Congress for schools to complete the renovations. That works out to $1 million per school.
Fortunately, in the most recent stimulus legislation passed by Congress and signed by former President Donald Trump, $82 billion was provided to schools and colleges to safely reopen. How soon that will be is anyone’s guess, with millions of students still utilizing distance learning.
As far as Covid cases go, confirmed cases are still coming in at about 188,000 per day nationwide, while probable cases according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at about 574,000 new cases daily.
Is Biden saying that unless Congress puts forth another $130 billion, it won’t be safe for schools to reopen?
That’s a critical question, because besides the effectiveness of the Covid vaccines now being distributed, the greatest barrier to reopening America and getting everyone back to work is solving the issue of schools.
Millions of working parents are being forced to cut back hours or quit their jobs to take care of their kids who would normally be in school, with women being disproportionately removed from the labor force. In fact, females have the lowest labor participation now than at any time since 1987.
Overall, 25 million jobs were lost when labor market bottomed last April. Fortunately, more than 16 million of those have been recovered.
Still, by March, many students will have gone almost a full year without in-person learning, including many with special needs including children with autism. My own daughter is enrolled in a pre-K autism class, and except for a few weeks of reopening in November here in northern Virginia, the school has remained closed.
We are offsetting the lack of in-person schooling with increased ABA therapy, but that is not an option for all children. She and other special needs students are definitely not getting what they need. They are losing years of development.
My wife was admittedly excited about the announcement of President Biden’s plan to “reopen” schools, but our hearts sank as we examined the details, realizing that the barriers included potentially retrofitting every school in America with new ventilation.
We keep asking: When will the schools reopen?
To take what the Biden administration is saying at face value, first, Congress has to pass this new legislation, which could take several months. Then the funds have to be distributed to the states. Then the states have to distribute the funds to the school districts. And then the schools have to be retrofitted by FEMA. Finally, the vaccine has to be proven effective, which we may not really know until the next cold and flu season begins in September.
So, perhaps schools will fully reopen in another year or so? Maybe? We’re not optimistic.
Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.
Cross-posted with The Daily Torch
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