President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, said Tuesday during an appearance on CNN that he is siding with teachers’ unions whose leaders and members are refusing to return to their classrooms for in-person instruction.
When host Erin Burnett asked Klain why he believes schools around the country are — in contradiction to what science says — remaining closed, he told the CNN anchor, “I’ll give you one word: money.”
Burnett, to her credit, continued to push back. She told Klain that, in choosing to defy government orders to return to work, as is the case in Chicago, teachers’ unions and their members are “overruling” what the vast majority of studies have shown, which is that classrooms are very safe from COVID-19 outbreaks.
“I don’t think unions are overruling studies,” Biden’s chief of staff replied.
Since the pandemic began, there have been numerous studies looking into the safety of classrooms. A newly released paper from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found there is “scant transmission” of COVID-19 in schools and a new joint analysis from Duke University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill found that — after observing 100,000 students and staff member across 11 districts for nine weeks — the likelihood of a child transmitting the virus to a teacher or school employee is “extremely rare.”
Nevertheless, Biden has shown an unwillingness to stand up to unions.
Klain, for his part, explained away the CDC research this way:
What that study in Wisconsin from the CDC showed was that 17 rural schools that got a sizable grant from a private foundation to put in the kinds of safety measures they needed; students in very small pods, classes of about 11 or 12, distanced in a rural area, they could go to school safely.
“President Biden has sent a plan to Congress that will make sure that a majority of our schools can be open within 100 days,” he told Burnett. “We need Congress to pass that plan so we can do the kinds of things you need to do so that the schools can be safe, so that the teachers can be safe, so that the students can be safe.”
Burnett told Klain she understands the need to socially distance, for students and educators to wear masks and for kids to be practicing good hand hygiene. But, as she told Biden’s chief of staff, the situation is dire because children have not attended school in-person in nearly a year.
“In Chicago, the teachers union voted this weekend to continue remote learning,” she told Klain. “They were about to open. The town of Montclair, New Jersey, this story came across, public schools were scheduled to reopen for hybrid learning. For elementary school kids, it’d be the first day of going to school in-person since March of last year — 10 months — but then they scrapped plans at the last minute after the local teachers’ union refused to return to classrooms.”
Ultimately, Klain concluded by saying the country “should make the investments to make [classrooms] safe.”