“Was it a mistake in so many states, in so many localities to see schools closed as long as they were?” an ABC reporter asked Dr. Anthony Fauci on October 16.
His response: “I would say that what we should realize, and have realized, that there will be deleterious collateral consequences when you do something like that…”
That was news to all of us parents who were called racists for raising the issue when it counted. For speaking of “deleterious consequences” during the height of the pandemic, we “open schools” parents were demonized and shut down. As the Chicago Teachers’ Union put it in a characteristic (but now deleted) tweet from December 2020, our push to reopen schools was “rooted in sexism, racism and misogyny.”
Cecily Myart-Cruz, the president of United Teachers Los Angeles, went so far as to claim in May 2021 that “there is no such thing as learning loss. Our kids didn’t lose anything. It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience.”
I was called a racist repeatedly by employees of my company, Levi’s, for my open schools advocacy in San Francisco. Then I was pushed out of the company. Because, let’s face it, no one wants a racist as president of their brand.
Leading the way — and tacitly lending credence to the vicious charges against parents — was the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Yet now, two and half years into the pandemic, Fauci insists we should have known all along he understood there would be harmful impacts from extended school closures. So why didn’t he stress this oh-so-obvious fact? Why didn’t he clearly state that, “yes, sad to say, there will be learning loss, as well as mental health impacts”?
The obvious answer is that keeping public schools closed was his priority and he led the messaging to ensure it would happen. That message was then adopted by key political and media figures. Fauci knowingly chose to let children suffer — low-income kids especially. And he encouraged the shouting down of dissident parents who were barred from school board meetings, deemed unemployable bigots, or simply cowed into silence.
The fact is that, despite his cultivated veneer of scientific objectivity, Fauci has always been intensely political; which is to say, always able speak out of both sides of his mouth on an issue. So, for instance, in an interview with NPR’s Judy Woodruff in July 2020, Fauci said, “we should try and get the children back to school as best as we possibly can.”
But Dr. Fauci had been the face and voice of America’s Covid policy since March 2020. If he thought schools should have been opened, they would have been. But he didn’t. Instead, both behind the scenes and in front of the cameras, he did everything he could do to ensure schools stayed closed.
Fauci continued in the ABC interview: “Let’s get down to the facts. I had nothing to do with it.”
The actual facts? Democratic states and cities hung on to Fauci’s every word, and his guidance became reality in states like California, the state that closed the longest. So please spare me the I don’t set policy mumbo jumbo. It may be literally true, but it elides the reality of how things actually went down.
Rather than citing data to support the age stratification of risk and the fact that people from the ages of 0-19 have an infection fatality rate from Covid-19 of .0003 percent pre-vaccine, Fauci chose to incite panic and further irrational policymaking. He consistently and repeatedly positioned public schools as dangerous and children as deadly vectors of disease, at high risk themselves of death and other adverse consequences such as MIS-C. And states like California followed suit, keeping public schools closed for close to eighteen months.
At every turn, Fauci stoked rather than allayed fears.
In May 2020, nearly two months after Denmark had decided schools needed to reopen because the impacts on children were too harmful, Fauci testified before Congress. In response to President Trump agitating for schools and businesses to open, Fauci said that schools should open cautiously and in some places should remain closed in the fall.
In the summer of 2020, North Carolina state officials debated what to do about opening schools. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for the state recommended plan B in a June 25 presentation to Governor Roy Cooper: in-person learning with schoolhouses open at reduced capacity. Four days later, a new proposal emerged, recommending plan A: a full reopening, albeit with strict new guidance on health screenings.
But then, on June 29, with an announcement about opening schools for the fall just two days away, in a conversation with Governor Cooper, Fauci said, “I would just delay that,” according to the governor’s senior advisor Julia White. And that’s what the state did. No school in North Carolina would be required to offer in-person learning in the fall of 2020.
In August 2021, he chastised Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, who had forced schools to open, for making masks optional in schools. Yet he had not a word of criticism of Governor Gavin Newsom for keeping them closed for a year and a half.
While Fauci may not have made the decision directly to keep schools closed in districts across the country, his was the primary influence on the government leaders, public health officials, and teachers’ unions who did. And now he wants to deny any responsibility for the damage that has been done.
But now, Fauci tells us he had the facts all along, and we just didn’t listen closely enough. Yet his imprecise and inscrutable choice of tense is an attempt to evade accountability.
Fauci has been lying about Covid since the beginning of the pandemic. He has admitted to lying about masks. He has admitted to lying about the vaccine uptake necessary for herd immunity. And he lied about the vaccines stopping transmission. So it’s no surprise he’s now lying about his role in prolonged school closures.
Fauci may present these lies as noble — furthered to save masks for healthcare workers, drive vaccine uptake, and keep children safe. But the damage from these lies has been incalculable and lasting. The learning loss, mental health impacts, and life-altering consequences for far too many children are all too real. And so is the erosion of trust in public health officials.
In the end, there’s no such thing as a noble lie from a government or health official. And there are always deleterious consequences to pretending that there is.
There were indeed heroes during the pandemic, like the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration — Dr. Jay Bhattacharya (Stanford), Martin Kulldorff (Harvard), and Dr. Sunetra Gupta (Oxford) — which called for “focused protection” of the elderly and vulnerable while allowing children to live normal lives. But they were discredited through a coordinated campaign actively encouraged by Anthony Fauci.
On October 16, 2020, Fauci wrote to Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator: “Just a heads up. Over the past week, I have come out very strongly against the ‘Great Barrington Declaration.’” He then cites his appearance on Good Morning America lambasting the authors as “dangerous” and “ridiculous.”
Fauci may have publicly said, “Close the bars, keep the schools open,” but only to provide cover for himself when the catastrophic impacts of his actual policy preferences bore themselves out.
We can only hope that as the devastating truths about pandemic policy and its unfolding consequences become clear, these doctors, epidemiologists, and open schools parents will be redeemed for their courage and foresight. And that Dr. Fauci’s abysmal performance and disastrous influence will be appropriately judged.