Former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg this week urged ex-rival President Joe Biden to stand up to teachers unions who are fighting attempts to resume in-person learning.
"I think what we're doing to poor kids is a disgrace," Bloomberg, a three-term mayor of New York City, said on MSNBC's "Live with Stephanie Ruhle." "These poor kids are not in school, they will never recover from this—and they had a bad education experience anyways. We have not had good schools for poor kids and this now is just so much worse. The president has to stand up to the unions."
“Teachers say, 'Well, I don’t want to go back because it’s dangerous.' We have a lot of city and state and federal employees who run risks—that’s part of the job," he added. "You run risks to help America, to help your state, to help your city, to help your family, and there’s just no reason not to have the schools open."
Studies show the quality of learning in online classes is inferior to learning in person. Schools in every state have reopened, but some remain closed.
Mentioning how low-income families have a harder time with virtual learning because they have fewer resources, Bloomberg disparaged how the union in Chicago is trying to prevent the resumption of regular school.
“It’s time for Joe Biden to stand up and to say the kids are the most important things, important players here,” he said. “And the teachers just are going to have to suck it up and stand up and provide an education, otherwise these kids have no chance whatsoever."
"In short, getting kids back into classrooms should be a national priority. More local leaders are recognizing that, but in some cases, districts have tried to reopen, only to be stymied by unions," he wrote, adding later: "To help more districts reopen, President Joe Biden should reassure union leaders that he takes teacher safety seriously. But he also needs to apply some pressure to states and cities."
Unions are demanding heightened safety measures in order to agree to send teachers back. The Chicago Teachers Union, for instance, released a non-exhaustive list that includes mandating masks, improved ventilation, and a plan to shut down if a zip code is at a positivity rate above 3 percent.
"We continue to teach remotely because of our members’ unity, their commitment to their school communities, and their fearless solidarity," Jesse Sharkey, president of the union, said in a statement this week.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, told reporters Thursday that a deal still hasn't been reached.
"Schools are safe," Lightfoot said at a press conference. "My patience is up."
"President Biden has been very clear that he wants schools to reopen and actually to stay open. And that means that every school has the equipment and the resources to open safely—not just private schools or schools in wealthy areas, but all schools," Jeff Zients, the president's COVID-19 response coordinator, said in a briefing on Wednesday.
"And that’s why we need the American Rescue Plan passed now. It includes money to get schools better access to testing, enables smaller class sizes, acquire the necessary ventilation, ensure everyone has [personal protective equipment], and that schools are properly sanitized."
Asked about Bloomberg's comments on Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters: "The president believes schools should be open. Teachers want schools to be open. Families want schools to be open. But we want to do it safely. And I’m not sure that any parent in this country would disagree with wanting their kids to go to school in a safe environment where there’s ventilation, where proper precautions are taken, whether it’s masks or social distancing. And that’s his priority."