This article was updated on July 17 at 2:45pm.
Few things have captured Donald Trump’s fickle attention for long during the pandemic, but for the past 10 days, the president has been highly focused on one issue. He has insisted on the need for America’s schools to reopen in August with students in classrooms five days a week, hoping that this might revive the economy, and with it his reelection chances in November. It ought to be an easy sell, because polling shows that parents want their children in class and teachers want to be there too. But there’s a catch: They want to know it’s safe, and the federal government’s failure to manage the pandemic means many districts don’t think it is.
“His defiance of science has made it impossible to do what he wanted to do,” Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, told me. “The irony is his incompetence and his arrogance and his refusal to listen to experts and his downplaying of the virus have made it impossible to do what he thought he needed to run for reelection.”
After months of mishandling the coronavirus, from initial indifference to hasty declarations of victory, Trump has now tried to bully schools into reopening. He has denounced guidelines established by his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as overly strict, and sought to take funding away from districts. But it isn’t working. New York City, the nation’s largest school district, will reopen classrooms only on a limited basis. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest district, announced together with the San Diego Unified School District that they would not reopen classrooms at the start of the school year.