The Nuclear Option: In Coronaland, School Is Deemed Non-Essential And ‘English-Learners’ Get Priority

One of the most unfortunate things about a pandemic followed by an economic collapse is that everyone is forced to triage their most precious priorities in life.

Vacations canceled. Sports eliminated. Graduations nixed. Weddings postponed.

Most haunting of all are stories of families who — if lucky — listened over the phone as their parents or grandparents died, sequestered and all alone in their final moments. Funerals are a thing of the past.

Everyone who works for a living is suddenly jailed in one of two prison cells.

Non-essential employees are stuck at home and not permitted to leave the house or travel the roadways. Essential employees face perhaps even more daunting responsibilities, braving the pandemic to provide vital services.

What passes as dark humor these days is when people suddenly realize they are not — in fact — “essential.”

Lawyers, political pundits, even university deans, it turns out, are not essential — no matter how essential they may consider themselves.

Decidedly not funny is the discovery that school teachers are not essential. Heck, it turns out school is not even deemed essential anymore. It was one of the very first casualties of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now I get that colleges and universities are not essential. After all, the youngsters can probably survive a couple of weeks or a semester or even a lifetime without learning about intersectional abortion rights for the latest transgendered male victim of patriarchy.

But basic public education where young citizens learn to read and write and perform basic math functions that allow them to live free and take care of themselves? That seems like it ought to be fairly essential.

Especially during a national crisis.

What would the Founders think of non-essential education? For all the low regard with which Thomas Jefferson is now held by the masses of blithering idiots rioting in the streets these days, he would still be among the most progressive — even by today’s woke standards — when it comes to education, particularly public education. And, of course, he would be appalled at the notion that schools and teachers are not deemed “essential.”

Without it, he argued, a republic devoted to liberty and self-governance would not last a fortnight, however long that is. Not even a forescore.

So here we are. Schools deemed “non-essential.” Working parents across the country are struggling to figure out how to constructively occupy their children while they try to make a living in these hard times.

Parents are not the only ones triaging precious priorities during the pandemic. So are government officials.

Here in Jefferson’s Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam established a four-phase timeline for returning to in-class instruction for all students. In the various phases, Mr. Northam prioritized which students will return to classroom instruction first.

Among the first groups of prioritized students — returning to the classroom in Phase Two — are so-called “English learners.” Yes, that would be students enrolled in public schools who are still learning English as a foreign or second language.

To be sure, it is tempting to just celebrate the acknowledgment — finally! — those people coming to the United States should at the very least actually learn English. But in what sane universe should those students be given priority over the children of other hard-working American parents?

Why should they be given preferential treatment?

On second thought, maybe we should not be surprised. Mr. Northam has a very ugly personal history and sacrificing Virginia schoolchildren is a small price for him to pay to clean it up.

• Charles Hurt is opinion editor of The Washington Times. He can be reached at or @charleshurt on Twitter.

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