Last week, Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, missing only two of their fellow Horsemen of the Apocalypse, visited Thales Academy in Apex, North Carolina, touting the network of private schools for reopening and describing the network as “in the forefront of reopening schools in America.” It’s also now at the forefront of examples that demonstrate why schools’ reopening without necessary safety measures is a terrible idea. Depressingly but predictably enough, one of Thales Academy’s elementary schools now has kids in quarantine, after a fourth-grader tested positive for covid-19.
According to the Raleigh News & Observer, the entire fourth grade class at Thales Academy’s school in Wake Forest as well as teachers will have to quarantine for two weeks after one of their classmates tested positive for covid-19 last Friday. This isn’t the first time schools in the network have had students or teachers test positive for covid-19 since they reopened earlier in July—shortly after opening their doors for the school year, a staff member from Tennessee who was visiting its Raleigh campus was found to have covid-19, which forced the school to shut down for a day so it could perform a deep cleaning, and last week, a kindergartener at the private school’s Knightdale campus also tested positive for covid-19.
But when Pence visited the private school’s Apex campus last week, he seemed to brush off the threat of the coronavirus spreading inside schools. “We’re here today because to open up America, we’ve got to open up America’s schools,” Pence said, according to ABC News. He added, “We really do believe that it’s in the best interest of our children to be back in the classroom.” In a tweet, Pence lauded the “careful steps” that Thales Academy has taken to “keep everyone healthy,” which according to Thales Academy spokesperson Holly Clark include daily temperature checks for students, checks for covid-19 symptoms, and the aforementioned deep cleaning after someone tests positive.
But Thales Academy’s own experience shows why those “careful steps” aren’t enough. According to Clark, and as reported by the News & Observer, the fourth graders diagnosed with covid-19 showed no symptoms while at school and passed daily temperature and symptom checks. Thales Academy, Clark wrote, “will continue thorough cleanings throughout the school day,” which is certainly nice for general sanitation reasons, but hardly a way to prevent the spread of an airborne virus.
I suspect that for Pence and DeVos and Donald Trump, all of whom have been strenuously pushing schools to reopen, these policies are really wishes rooted in magical thinking—the idea if we get back to “normal” as quickly as possible, the pesky coronavirus problem will be solved. But as the example of Thales Academy—and many, many others—shows, any semblance of “normal” won’t happen until the pandemic is in check. With these goons in charge, we’re definitely fucked.
Correction: A previous version of this post stated that unlike public schools in the state, Thales Academy is not offering virtual learning. According to Thales Academy spokesperson Holly Clark, the schools “are offering both fully virtual and fully in-person options for our students. Parents were given the choice of either option for their student.” Jezebel regrets the error.