Virginia House of Delegates Democrats justifiably lashed out at their GOP peers yesterday on the floor, following a number of GOP delegates speaking up (unusually using points of personal privilege to do so) in support of tacking an emergency clause on the in-person schooling bill SB1303—a move which would surely have killed the bill, since it requires 80% approval to pass with an emergency clause, a standard already failed in the Senate on this bill.
This bill has been a political football from the start, with the Senate passing a ridiculous version that consisted of one sentence: “That each local school division in the Commonwealth shall make [ virtual and ] in-person learning available to all students by choice of the student’s parent or guardian.” In other words, the General Assembly would slap local school boards in the face, remove their decision-making as to the safety of returning to in-person learning and their ability to follow health guidelines of the CDC or other agencies, and mandate a return to in-person schooling. (From the looks of the language, the schools would also have to offer virtual learning infinitely, since there was no end date indicated).
The House Education Committee, and Delegate VanValkenburg in particular, worked to turn this from a joke of a bill designed only to score some political points, into a substantive piece of legislation that would provide actual guidelines for the return to in-person schooling where health guidelines can be safely followed, with vaccinated teaching staff, and with accommodations for teachers needing to quarantine. Without an emergency clause, it would take effect July 1, 2021 as all bills do, giving those schools and parents that have not already returned to in-person learning adequate time to prepare. An emergency clause, in addition to undoubtedly killing the bill, would require all schools to immediately offer in-person learning, whether or not they’ve figured out how to ensure health guidelines are followed.
House Democrats decided today they’d had enough of this “playing politics with our kids and their desire to get into schools and parents and their desire to get their kids back to school,” as Delegate Simon said. “This amendment is a political stunt that’s meant to try to get more mileage out of the bill. The goalposts keep moving. This is the latest attempt by the minority to try to gain political points off this issue.”
House Democrats went on to rightfully lambaste the GOP for the incredible hypocrisy of complaining about kids not being in schools after their a) COVID-denying, refusing to wear masks or social distance, and attending super spreader events; and b) spending decades refusing to properly fund public education, to ensure schools wouldn’t be overcrowded and would have the kind of modern infrastructure it would take to re-open safely.
“What’s the number one thing you can do to ensure kids are safe in school?” Delegate VanValkenburg asked. “Wear masks. What have they spent a year railing about? Wearing masks!” He said when you take that plus the decade or more of constantly underfunding our public education, and “you take those two things and you put them together in a toxic stew with a former President who spent a year screwing up the public health crisis and spent a year lying and destroying peoples’ faith in a government action, it’s not as easy as to just come in here and say ‘open up all schools immediately.’”
Delegate Bourne added “I would just ask folks who believe that we’ve had a loss of learning over the last year: where have you been for the last generation, when many communities and many students that I represent and their families have had a complete lack of learning because of our failure at the state level to adequately, appropriately fund public education.”
Delegate Scott accused the GOP of trying to rewrite history, reminding everyone that “a year ago we met for veto session, I saw many members of the opposite side of the aisle who refused to wear masks, thought it was a joke!…Throughout this entire pandemic they have made light of it. One of their members had the audacity to introduce a bill on the floor resolving that we should all be taking hydroxychloroquine! Not once have they said ‘you know what, we were wrong to believe that these 500,000 people that died, we didn’t play a part in this. That we were wrong to have denied this.’ I have not heard one of them admit that Joe Biden is the President!”
And finally, the pièce de la résistance, Delegate Price gave an absolutely scathing indictment of the GOP hypocrisy. “Last month isn’t just some distant past, just because folks are trying to distance themselves from abject failures of the last administration…It is infuriating that the other side completely undermined public safety by making masks and social distancing political, and by consistently demonizing science…And this hurt efforts by the Governor and his Administration to work to stop the spread.” She went on to point out the hypocrisy of the GOP pretending to care about kids and families but never supporting policies that help them: “So much goes into health, and I’m just asking for all this energy behind getting schools back open to also be present to vote in support of bills that keep these students and families and teachers and staff safe in other ways too. Virginia residents need safety and security through equitable access to the vaccine, a living wage, access to food, worker protections, evictions prevention…that’s not what I’ve seen this session or in the six sessions I’ve been here.”