This op-ed is part of Signal, an editorial project trying to talk about the Presidential elections in the USA while avoiding informational noise, presenting sharp points of view and taking into account geographical differences across States. While some of the facts authors mentioned might need further investigation, the goal of the project is to read and listen unflitered electoral preferences. Jennifer Jendras holds a masters of public health, and writes from Illinois.
Before his election as governor of Illinois, JB Pritzker (D-IL) had not held an elected political office. His political career consisted of serving as national co-chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign during her first failed run at office, and as a delegate to the 2008 and the 2016 Democratic National Convention. JB Pritzker is currently the wealthiest individual to be elected into U.S. public office and holds a net worth of 3.4 billion dollars. Just one of 11 billionaires in his family. This is the same Pritzker who was recorded by the FBI years ago laughing it up with the now disgraced and convicted Gov. Blagojevich (D-IL) about possible successors to then President-elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat and critiquing the field of African-Americans he thought could be appointed to this seat, even eyeballing the purchase for himself. Gov. Pritzker shrugs off the secretly wire-tapped Blagojevich chats: “There were hundreds of people who were recorded.”
Despite this pathetic record, labor unions fought long and hard in Illinois to get a democrat governor elected. Their fight paid off for them. I can’t say what exactly sold the union leaders on Pritzker, but once in office he immediately provided raises and bonuses to state AFSME workers. Already facing a $1.2 billion deficit, estimates pegged the cost at of this decision at $415 million with taxpayers also subsiding 80% of union worker health insurance costs. The Chicago Public School Teachers Unions and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, with over 125,000 members followed suit in endorsing JB Pritzker for Governor, followed by the AFL-CIO with a thirty union coalescence. He was their man.
JB was not two years into office when the World Health Organization was made aware of a new disease known as COVID-19 on December 31, 2019 and declared it a pandemic on March 11 the following year. Blindsided by a newly virus emerging from China, with little information to go on, the US began to shut down not only travel, but its businesses and its schools. Governor Pritzker quickly announced a mandatory school shut down March 18, 2020 and schools quickly transitioned into remote learning. Deaths, mostly to those with compromised immune systems and the elderly population, began to increase when infected with the virus. Illinois quickly moved to strict shelter in place orders. All businesses, with the exception of large grocery chains, home improvement stores, corporate general type merchants such as Wal-Mart, hospitals, gas stations, liquor stores and marijuana shops, were closed down. The economy ground to a halt. The two week flatten the curve order put in place by JB Pritzker, was extended out to four weeks, six weeks, ten weeks. On May 1, mandatory mask orders were put in place, these are still in place. Finally at the start of June, some of these strict business shut down orders were lifted throughout the state but the damage was done, many small businesses, the life blood of the United States middle class were shuttered, never to re-open. Orders by Illinois’ JB Pritzker included an almost 12 week shelter in place shut down of all but essential businesses as well as mask mandates and business operation restrictions in place since May 1, 2020 to get the virus under control. All have proven ineffective.
We find ourselves 6 months from the start of the pandemic in the US and after all these measures, Illinois finds itself at the cusp of a second shut down right before the presidential election. Anticipated fears that JB Pritzker will completely shut down the state before the election had already created a surge in Illinois absentee ballot requests months ago. Illinois’ election motto has always been “vote often vote early” based on its corrupt political power structure. With the union representing the nation’s letter carriers in charge of delivering election ballots endorsing Joe Biden, fear has emerged in republicans as to the security of mail in ballots. Now, there is renewed frenzy for early in-person voting with the expectancy that the recent surge in COVID cases is perfectly timed to coincide with shut down mandate that will include voting just prior to the presidential election.
People living in Illinois assumed US schools, normally having summer breaks from June through August, would return to in-person learning come fall. Certainly schools had plenty of time to plan how to safely re-open, they had all summer. Data accumulated. According to the most recent information released by the World Health Organization on October 21, 2020, children and schools are unlikely to be the main drivers of COVID-19 transmission, when community transmission is low and when appropriate mitigation measures are applied. In Illinois, schools are mandated to use recommended public health measures such as masking, social distancing and other safety and cleaning procedures, in order to open. Nearly all New York City school buildings are open, and the district’s random virus tests so far have found a low infection rate among students and staff: 42 positive cases among more than 33,000 tests this month, by city data.
In Illinois, however, open public schools was not to be. Despite mounting evidence of how to operate schools safely, teachers from the Chicago Public school system, third largest in the US, with 361,000 students in over 600 schools are still refusing to open schools. 78% of students in this district are low income and at risk. The heads of the Illinois Public Health Department and the Illinois State Board of Education, all run by political appointments by JB Pritzker, came out with a school re-opening document so impossible for schools to follow its guidance, that schools could not reopen without jumping through numerous logistical obstacles. This despite the fact that DuPage County Illinois, the second largest in the state of Illinois with nearly 1,000,000 residents, from March 1, 2020 through October 20, 2020, showed that of the 235 outbreaks that gave rose to 3,135 cases, only 6 of those outbreaks were contact traced to a public school setting with total of just 17 cases, in almost 6 months.
In August, in state private schools, with non-union teachers, found ways to return to in-person learning, albeit in a hybrid mode, splitting days between in-person and remote learning, however the public schools all filled with teachers working as members of public sector unions found ways to declare that returning to school was unsafe. These are the same teachers that had been going on vacations in other states, shopping at grocery stores, shopping at Target and dining in restaurants. Dozens of articles, public health and mental health experts touted the need and benefits for children to return to in person learning, the need for socialization. Public pressure began to mount, with the majority of parents demanding in person learning and the majority of teacher’s wanting to teach remotely, citing safety concerns. Even parents holding protests and flooding school board meetings was providing little satisfactory to results for the taxpayer parents and their students.
Depression and suicides are on the increase with older teens. Younger students who don’t yet read, much less have the capability to download a document, click on a link, or unmute a zoom microphone; have difficulty with remote learning. Teachers know when their students in a muted classroom are crying because they can see them rubbing their eyes. Even worse than seeing this, one teacher witnessed her student being forced to perform oral sex on a family member during remote learning when this child should have been at school and her accused family member was also home bored with nothing to do.
Who does remote learning hurt the most? Those that can least afford to be left behind. Poor students that have parents that both work and cannot assist them maneuver remote learning. Students of parents that cannot afford all the tools and quiet spaces needed to learn remotely. Those students whose parents may be undereducated that do not know how to help them with the subject matter or the technologies. Parents and students that speak a primary language that is not English. Students with special needs that require individualized instruction to move them along and need the structure and involvement of in-person learning. What do the parents of the middle to upper class students to in these situations? They hire tutors for their children, they buy them better technology, they assist them with their money, their time and/or their knowledge. Their students do not fall behind, but will move ahead. Teachers, who have held fast to the notion that they are social justice warriors for equity, are creating the largest equity gap with regards to education that the US will ever see. When people question what leads to race and class inequities in public schools one only needs to look to this as a classic example as who did. Liberals have controlled the institution of education in America for decades, so if institutional racism really does exist, whose fault would that be?
Jennifer Jendras (MPH)
[cover pic: The New York Times]