Reopening Debate Tied Up in Biden Ties to Teachers Unions
Friday, 05 February 2021 07:33 PM
The increasingly heated school reopening debate is forcing President Joe Biden to balance two priorities: getting children back into the classroom and preserving the support of powerful labor groups that helped him get elected.
Following weeks of standoff in some cities and states where teachers unions are demanding vaccines as a condition of reopening, the issue came to a head Wednesday when Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said vaccination of teachers “is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.”
But in a juggling of positions, the White House declined to back Walensky, saying she was speaking “in her personal capacity.” Asked Friday about her earlier comments, Walensky punted.
So far, it doesn’t appear that the issue is driving a wedge between Biden and the unions. Even those demanding vaccines say shots would not be required if schools were taking other steps to make buildings safe.
Walensky on Wednesday cited CDC data showing that social distancing and wearing a mask significantly reduce the spread of the virus in school settings. Just a week earlier, the agency issued a study similarly finding that, with mask wearing and other precautions, it’s generally safe to hold in-person schooling.
To many Republicans and some on the left, Walensky’s comment was seen as an endorsement to reopen schools im