Parents pushed back on Dr. Anthony Fauci for refusing to say COVID-19 related school closures were a "mistake" and that he had "nothing" to do with them.
The head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who is stepping down in December after five decades, was asked by ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl on Sunday whether it was a "mistake" for schools to be closed down for so long. While saying there was a "steep cost" associated with the closures, he said he was concerned with the language he used because he didn't want to be taken out of context.
"I don’t want to use the word ‘mistake,’ Jon, because if I do, it gets taken out of the context that you’re asking me the question on," Fauci said. "We should realize, and have realized, that there will be deleterious collateral consequences when you do something like that."
"If he won't say it, I’ll say it for him — school closures were one of the biggest mistakes EVER," Parents Defending Education President Nicki Neily tweeted.
Karl noted in the interview that it's true Fauci wasn't on the school boards who decided to keep schools closed, but the decisions had far-reaching impacts for schoolchildren. Fauci said he always emphasized health officials must do "everything we can to keep the schools open."
"No one plays that clip," Fauci said. "They always say ‘Fauci was responsible for closing schools.’ I had nothing to do [with it]. I mean, let’s get down to the facts."
Fox News contributor Dr. Nicole Saphier said she found a few instances to prove the opposite. While "no one can fault" the initial school closures in the spring of 2020, the CDC, state legislators, teachers unions and "even Dr. Fauci all played a role in prolonging the closures that ultimately proved detrimental to our kids," she said.
By the end of summer 2020, Fauci said in interviews that only schools in areas of low viral transmission could safely reopen, which Saphier said caused many districts to stay closed through the end of the year.
"What is paramount is the safety and the welfare of the children and of their teachers... when you have a lot of infections, you’ve got to make a decision at the local level," Fauci said on CNN in July 2020.
In January 2021, Saphier further noted, Fauci said he supported the CDC's updated guidelines that schools should resume in-person learning if social distancing and masks were properly enforced. She also argued that he did not speak up when powerful teachers unions slow walked the reopening of schools.
"When schools stayed closed citing it impossible to maintain 6-ft social distancing," Saphier said, "Fauci remained silent."
"Fauci did say respectively that schools should reopen as soon as possible for the sake of childhood education, but he was complicit in the damage done when he remained silent as the local legislators and teachers unions kept the schools closed," she concluded.
In the wake of the pandemic, reading scores saw their largest decrease in 30 years, while math scores had their first decrease in the history of the testing regimen done by the National Center for Education Statistics, a recent Department of Education report found. A public report released last week found that scores on the ACT college admissions test by this year's high school graduates hit their lowest point in more than 30 years.
The test scores showed 42% of ACT-tested graduates in the class of 2022 met none of the subject benchmarks in English, reading, science and math, which are indicators of how well students are expected to perform in corresponding college courses. In comparison, 38% of test takers in 2021 failed to meet any of the benchmarks.
Virginia Mavens' Elizabeth McCauley referenced the poor scores in her take on Fauci's "tone-deaf" comments.
"The impact of school closures will last for years - speech and language development delays, the lowest ACT and SAT scores in over 30 years and tragic impacts on literacy and social and emotional development for children," McCauley told Fox News Digital.
"The response from Dr. Fauci seems quite out of touch, tone-deaf, dismissive of the detrimental, and in some cases actually deadly impacts of prolonged COVID-related school closures (student suicide and vaccine related death and injury). It appears he is trying to rewrite history. Fauci fear mongered and then many school administrators, teachers and even parents believed children would be safer masked, double or even triple masked, and out of in person learning for - in some cases- one full year."
Grabien editor Tom Elliott countered Fauci's remarks by arguing that in his high profile role the media often looked to him for advice.
"As the self-appointed COVID czar, politicos & the media turned to him for advice, and his was to lock kids out," Elliott tweeted.
"Dr. Fauci pushing school closures, and politicizing our pandemic response, has done so much damage to children," Fox News contributor Karol Markowicz told Fox News Digital. "That he still refuses to face that damage, and his very direct role in it, is more evidence of the cover provided to him by a compliant media. He never gets asked follow-up questions or gets questioned on his false assertions. History should remember him as the poster child for pandemic failure."
Fox News' Paul Best contributed to this report.