Last Week Tonight with John Oliver returned on Sunday night and the titular host dove right into the debate of whether or not to open schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. Short answer is: we shouldn’t…but unfortunately Donald Trump and his administration are pushing the opening of schools beyond comprehension.
Trump has been consistently at odds with medical experts saying that schools should open in the fall. He has even said that he will defund schools that don’t open even though he has little power to do so. It’s no surprise that Mike Pence has also fallen in line with Trump. In a clip shown of Pence, he flat out says that they don’t want guidance from the CDC in why they don’t want schools to open.
“Mike Pence doesn’t think CDC guidelines should impede schools opening? Then what exactly are they for?” Oliver questions. “These are public health guidelines. They shouldn’t be skimmed and ultimately deemed inconsequential to our current situation. They’re not Mary Trump’s book.”
White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow is also on board this back-to-school pandemic train. He feels that there isn’t an issue with kids going back to school. He thinks that they can socially distance and temperatures can be taken. He claims that “it’s not that hard.” Again, Oliver said otherwise.
“Safely reopening schools is going to be incredibly hard,” he points out. “They are not designed for social distancing and years of budget cuts and the economic downturn are going to make it very difficult for them to upgrade their facilities.”
The Trump administration has repeatedly implied that kids are at low risk of severe illness. Oliver injects some sense into all of this by saying that we don’t know if kids are at low risk. In addition, kids are not the only people that go to school. Yup, adults go to school to teach these children who are supposedly “low risk”. In fact, one-third of K-12 teachers are over 40 years old and that puts them at higher risk.
Oliver throws it to a clip of Mary Strickland, a 53-year-old middle school teacher in Texas, which has seen a severe spike. She has been teaching for 22 years and admitted that she is terrified to return to the classroom. In fact, she is so scared that she and her husband have started writing their wills because she is concerned about her health and her life.
“Teachers should not go to work scared they might die,” Oliver responded to Strickland’s story. “They should be scared of the usual teacher things like not getting paid enough money to eat or made into a TikTok meme by their students.”
In another news clip, Louisiana Senator John Neely Kennedy continued this way of think thinking that is devoid of nuance, claiming that keeping schools closed will hurt them far worse than coronavirus. He goes on to say that countries like France, Germany, Austria, Denmark “and even Vietnam” have reopened. Oliver quickly points out that the schools reopening were under very different circumstances. They opened gradually and while cases were low and dropping. Meanwhile, the United States has clocked 77,000 new cases in one day and they continue to rise
Oliver realizes that at-home learning is a poor substitute, specifically with households that have limited internet access and require special support. There are also many kids that rely on schools for resources like meals. In addition, parents are burdened with teaching at home. In particular, it has a great impact on parents who can’t work remotely and have limited options when it comes to child care. This has a big impact on women — especially women of color. He recognizes the stress and as a parent, Oliver knows that there are many like him that want their kids back in school.
He joked, “I love my kids more than anything but I’d send them to go study at Jake Paul’s house if it meant that I could have my mornings back.”
Florida Ron DeSantis added to the Trump chorus saying that schools should stay open for consistency. During a press conference, he said that education is essential like grocery stores and restaurants and since those are open, we need to open schools too. Oliver agrees that we have prioritized opening restaurants and bars ahead of schools, but as we have seen, many advised we go a lot slower. DeSantis seems to be ignoring that advice when it comes to schools.
“Schools clearly don’t exist in a vacuum,” Oliver stated. “The best way to reopen schools safely is, if I may quote Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, ‘Live in a community that doesn’t have a big disease outbreak. That’s how you open up schools safely’.”
He continued, “So many of the decisions that could make schools safe involve what we can all do outside of them.”
The government could be helping by consistent messaging on the importance of wearing face masks, possibly reclosing nonessential businesses and making sure people who are staying at home are being paid a living wage.
“Our response here is only going to be as strong as our weakest link and other countries know this because understanding it, if I may quote Larry Kudlow, is ‘not that f***ing hard’.”