It’s a hard time to be a parent in America. It’s scary. How do you raise a child safely during a global pandemic? Joyfully in a country with racial unrest and injustice? And just plain responsibly if schools have to close at some point next year but work for moms and dads still has to get done?
Those are the questions that have preoccupied American parents with school scheduled to start in less than a month in some districts, but no clear national message over the summer about how schools can reopen safely in the fall, or even if they should.
In Fairfax County, Virginia, administrators have announced that students will have a choice between two days on campus or all-remote learning. New York City schools will reopen in September, but they haven’t announced specifics yet, other than that it probably won’t include children at school five days a week. Suburban schools in Georgia will open two weeks later than planned, and will ask parents to choose between online and in-person school.
Parents have been told these plans could change. Schools may send children early on some days, or home for two weeks, if they, their teacher or a fellow student tests positive for the coronavirus. The future is unknown because the virus is unknown — but the anxiety it’s creating for parents is real.
That anxiety, along with Mount Rushmore, was the backdrop on July 3 when President Donald Trump delivered his first message in months to parents about schools in America.
“Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children,” he warned in front of the hulking mountain carving. Huh?
Wait, let him explain. “Against every law of society and nature, our children are taught in school to hate their own country and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but that were villains.” The president went on about how the “radical view of American history is a web of lies” and vowed not to let “fascists” in our schools disfigure American history.
Do you feel better? I don’t blame you.
In the real world
By Tuesday, Trump was leading a “National Dialogue on Safely Reopening America’s Schools” along with an able cast of White House staff, educators and health care experts from around the country.
“We want to reopen the schools. Everyone wants it. The moms want it. The dads want it. Everyone wants it,” he said. “The deaths are way down from this horrible China virus.”
After declaring the economy “back” and noting that the stock market hit another record Tuesday, the president promised that schools would reopen “quickly and beautifully in the fall.”
But that seemed divorced from the reality that coronavirus cases have increased in 40 out of 50 states recently and that some schools, including those in Virginia and New York, have already announced that students won’t be returning full-time in the fall under any scenario.
It also didn’t take into account the fact that the child care industry, which is often the safety net for working parents when schools are closed, has been among the hardest hit by the economic crisis. A recent report from the Center for American Progress estimated that as many as half of all child care slots could be eliminated by the fall because of space and financial constraints for child care providers. Add to that the fact that the J-1 visa for the au pair program, a more affordable child care option for parents with off hours, has been suspended by the Trump administration through the end of the year.
If schools can’t open in the fall and stay open, and child care is not an option either, there is no backup plan for parents right now. Parents, and especially moms, are the backup plan.
A revolt brews
The sinking feeling that help is not on the way may be part of the reason why the president’s numbers among women are so dangerously low. While his overall Gallup approval rating is a not-great 38 percent, it’s just 32 percent among women — a drop of 10 points since March. What has happened for women since March? What hasn’t happened?
Along with school and child care closures, women have been hit harder than men by job losses during the pandemic. Reporting also showed women-owned businesses were largely locked out of the early rounds of the Paycheck Protection Program. In short, the moms are not all right.
In Florida, the latest Fox News poll showed Joe Biden beating Trump among suburban women 60 percent to 30 percent. Those same women consider Biden better able to handle the coronavirus than Trump 59 percent to 30 percent and race relations 62 percent to 26 percent. In North Carolina, suburban women choose Biden over Trump 63 percent to 31 percent in the Fox News poll. In Arizona, they preferred Biden over Trump 45 percent to 41 percent, with 65 percent saying it was important for the president to wear a mask in public to set a good example for Americans.
If the 2018 midterm elections saw a “revolt” of suburban female voters away from some congressional Republicans, 2020 is on course to be a total revolution against the president if something doesn’t change quickly.
Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.