July 12, 2020

Trump’s Call For Opening Puts School Kids At Frontline of Risk and Re-election

White Plains High School in New York. With virus still not controlled, will parents send them to this capable school? They won’t. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

You might have missed it this week — a statement by President Trump urging education boards to open schools in September. It’s revealing and, I suspect, politically risky for Trump supporters.

“Now when you have an incident, one out of a million, one out of 500,000, will something happen? Perhaps,” Trump said. “But you can be driving to school and some bad things can happen, too. This is a disease that attacks age and it attacks health and if you have a heart problem, if you have diabetes, if you’re a certain age, it’s certainly much more dangerous. But with the young children, I mean, and students, it is really– just take a look at the statistics — it is pretty amazing.”

Now in risk-averse, chemical-fearing, vaccine-opposing, antiseptic, germ free America, it’s difficult to imagine that parents will send their kids back to school –unless the virus is under control. That includes parents who support the president. But you have to wonder whether the president’s eagerness to test the immunity of children will reach Trump-supporting families and erode some of his support. It could.

First, it appears that the virus will be causing just as much or potentially even more havoc by September given that people will be moving around and there is no cure. Physicians also are reporting the development of a dangerous COVID-related “pediatric inflammatory syndrome” that has killed kids in New York, and caused dozens more to get deathly ill in 15 other states.

Second, working families with kids already are stretched.The economy in mobility-dependent regions like where I live in northern Michigan — vacation resorts, restaurants, bars, hotels, shops — is already in dire shape. After Memorial Day we’re hoping that the economy could rebound a bit, but it is not likely to bounce back to the levels of spending and engagement of recent years. That weakness will cause an unknown number of businesses to close and push thousands of people out of regular work. I know this because my own work, project assignments planned in the U.S. and overseas for the balance of 2020, vanished in March. My income is lower than it’s been since I was starting out over 40 years ago.

Still, my situation is a cake walk compared to the desperation building among younger people, mothers and fathers with kids in their homes, and escalating anxiety about how to cobble together sufficient work and wages to support them. I don’t find the protests in Lansing surprising at all. What’s more surprising is how few people they’ve attracted so far.

Now comes the president asserting the safety of the school room and calling on parents to send their children. His advocacy, it seems to me, is an ill-advised venture into the sacred territory commanded by parents. Decisions on the well-being of children is ground mastered solely by parents. Suggesting otherwise transcends the ideological skirmishes Trump generated over wearing masks, or when to end social distancing measures.

Will the president’s view of school children immunity and schoolyard safety — “one out of a million, one out of 500,000” — sway parents? Will they send their kids to school if the virus is still a threat? I don’t think so. Will it prompt parents to consider their support for the president from a fresh vantage? It might.

— Keith Schneider

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