A NC teacher says that, with federal lawmakers stalled on aid for school reopening, Vice President Pence should not be in the state touting a private school right now. (Image via Shutterstock) Vice President Mike Pence
A NC teacher says that, with federal lawmakers stalled on aid for school reopening, Vice President Pence should not be in the state touting a private school right now. (Image via Shutterstock)

With federal lawmakers stalled on aid for reopening public schools, Pence should not be touting a private school right now.  

Today Vice President Mike Pence is set to visit Thales Academy in Apex to promote school privatization.

Both Pence and Bob Luddy, Thales Academy founder and GOP donor, have championed school privatization and certainly aren’t missing an opportunity to sell this message as public schools throughout the state reopen with partial in-building or remote-only instruction.

But peddling private schools as a solution to coping with coronavirus impacts instead of taking one’s public job seriously as the head of our national coronavirus task force encapsulates the dystopian direction of national leadership.

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In April, Pence defied the Mayo Clinic’s requirements for all visitors to wear a mask in their hospital. 

And when Gov. Roy Cooper said in May he couldn’t guarantee full occupancy of Charlotte’s Spectrum Center in August, Pence suggested states such as Texas, Florida or Georgia may be a better fit for hosting the Republican National Convention. 

At the time, Pence complimented the “tremendous progress” those states made in reopening. 

Yet two of those three states were referenced yesterday by public health officials as “red zone” states because of significant community spread of COVID-19. 

Perhaps Vice President Pence should focus more on supporting mitigation efforts of governors such as Roy Cooper rather than complimenting hasty premature reopening in other states.

In a June 10 tweet that was later removed, Pence’s account posted a picture of him in a room with a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of campaign staffers. Yet nobody wore a mask despite his own task force’s recommendations that Americans should socially distance and wear a mask.

Over the objections of Tulsa, Okla.’s chief health officer, Pence defended moving forward with a June campaign rally in the city by saying: “We have an election coming up this fall.” 

Campaign staff bragged about and prepared for the possibility of more than 800,000 attendees.  The event was ultimately attended by only 6,200 people.

Nearly a week later at the national coronavirus task force’s first public briefing in months, Pence hypocritically stated: “The first principle is that people ought to listen to their state and local authorities.”  

Apparently this advice is optional when it conflicts with one’s political priorities.

One of Pence’s roles as vice president is serving as president of the Senate. Given the failure of his administration to test, trace, and control the spread of the virus as other developed countries have done before reopening school buildings, one would think he’d at least be interested in triaging that failure with belated support of state and local governments as they face budget crises.

‘Mike Pence owes public schools the leadership to create the conditions where their children and school staff can safely return to classrooms.’

Currently stuck in the Senate, the HEROES Act would offer $1 trillion to state and local governments and is the only way states like North Carolina would be able to hire staff and purchase resources necessary to safely reopen school buildings

Instead of supporting state and local governments, the administration threatened to make future COVID-19 relief funds conditional on reopening school buildings.

Public school supporters in North Carolina are calling out that backward approach with a statewide petition.

As a teacher and a mother I would love to be able to reopen our school buildings, but because officials like Vice President Pence have neglected their duty to protect Americans from community spread it cannot yet be done safely.

In yesterday’s call with governors, Dr. Deborah Birx advised “yellow zone” states such as North Carolina to “increas[e] mitigation efforts now.” 

On the same call, Pence added: “We’ll support your decision, but I think your big message to these states that may be emerging is don’t wait.”

Which brings us back to Pence’s visit today endorsing early reopening of a private school in Apex. Coincidentally, the academy’s sister school in Raleigh had a staff member test positive last week and interacted with at least sixteen students.

Instead of pushing a privatizing agenda while visiting Wake County, North Carolina’s largest public school system, Pence should meet with public school parents.  Half of them chose the district’s Virtual Academy option for their children. 

He owes them explanations for why he continues to ignore his own task force’s health advice and fails to lead the Senate to take up the HEROES Act that could support the safe reopening of their child’s school.

Most importantly, Mike Pence owes public schools the leadership to create the conditions where their children and school staff can safely return to classrooms.