[Sun Gazette Newspapers provides content to, but otherwise is unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]

As they say in the citrus-growing fields of central Florida: When you’ve got ’em by the grapefruits, their hearts and minds will follow.

Perhaps to distract from his vaccine-rollout fiasco, Gov.-Dr. (or is it “Dr.-Gov.”) Northam earlier this month whipped together a plan to get those Virginia students who have been languishing in the equivalent of purgatory for 11 months now back into their classrooms.

His effort, like so much of Northam’s response to the pandemic, seemed half-hearted. Sometimes that has worked to the commonwealth’s advantage – we have praised the governor for not joining some of his fellow Democratic governors in a rabid lockdown strategy.

But in allowing the school situation to get so ridiculous over the past year, Northam has a permanent stain on his legacy, particularly given that the students and families most hurt have been those Democratic leaders proclaim to champion, but in this case have hung out to dry.

The timing of Northam’s announcement was, to say the least, interesting, coming as it did after a week in which Virginia Republicans, including a number who aim to succeed him in the Governor’s Mansion next January, launched a broadside against both teacher unions and their toadies in elected office who are keeping classrooms closed despite incontrovertible evidence that the damage being done to students by lockdown far outweighs any potential health risk of returning to class.

We’re guessing the good doctor, who despite being somewhat hapless has a instinct for political survival, recognized that the GOP punches were landing on Democratic chins and that such a situation was, to use a current buzzword, politically “unsustainable” for Democrats.

The ball’s now in the court of, among others, the school boards in Northern Virginia, which have been led around by the noses (or appendages further south) by arrogant teacher-union heavies who for some bizarre reason have been permitted veto power over school-reopening plans.

(As for Arlington Public Schools’ most recent plan to get students back in class in March? We’ll hope for the best, but will only believe it when we see it – and only praise it if school leaders don’t take the first opportunity they are given to shut back down. Show some backbone and get the job done, APS leadership.)

Behind the scenes, Democratic leaders are sniffing that public outrage about the school situation, while very real, will all be forgotten by the electorate by the time the November statewide elections roll around. We wouldn’t bet the ranch on that.

Clearly the governor was unnerved enough about the views of the majority of Virginia voters who have suffered through the outrages perpetrated on them by school leaders for the past year to come out of his bunker and address the issue.

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