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Three weeks before Sen. Ted Cruz embarked on his ill-fated Cancun trip to escape the aftermath of Texas’s devastating winter storm, the elite K-12 Houston private school attended by his two daughters emailed a Covid warning to parents about international travel.
The bottom line: St. John’s School students who travel internationally must quarantine for 7 to 10 days upon their return. And they won’t be able to even learn online while in isolation.
The rules, pegged to CDC guidelines, were sent Jan. 30 in reaction to a controversy that gripped the school after its winter break, when the 11th and 12th grade classes had to promptly quarantine because students attended holiday parties that led to multiple Covid-positive infections.
A divide had formed between the parents and students who followed the safety guidelines and those who flouted them — a microcosm of the broader societal conflict that plays out daily across the nation.
Cruz’s trip this week wrenched that divide wide open. As newly released text messages and Cruz-mocking memes exploded on social media, St. John’s parents demanded the school enforce the safety rules that will keep his kids out of class, taking the scandal out of the political realm and into his home.
“At the end of the day, he’s taking this heat for using his children as an excuse for taking a vacation. And that’s a mistake,” said Lara Hollingsworth, a parent of three kids at the school. “From a parent standpoint, all I’m asking is the school follow the CDC guidelines, and I need to say I have no reason to believe they won’t.”
Cruz has long held a reputation as a polarizing politician people love to hate, and Hollingsworth said some of his critics at the school believe he displayed “hypocritical behavior.”
“You’ve got someone out here saying, ‘I did this to be a good dad.’ No one is trying to dispute that,” she said. “The question is are you fully aware of the consequences of what you did? Does it make you a bad parent? No. Does it make you a bad senator? Maybe.”
The topic of the Cruz family’s travel became so hot that administrators of the St. John’s School Parents Facebook page closed down comments Friday on a post that referred “to this recent communication from the school regarding ... advisories (including CDC requirements links) for international travel.”
Under the guidance, any international traveler who returns to the United States must quarantine or isolate for 7 to 10 days after returning to in-person instruction.
A Cruz spokesman said the senator’s “daughters plan to follow the St. John’s policy.”
St. John’s administrators could not be reached for comment.
When Cruz arrived back in Texas after a day in Mexico, the senator acknowledged Thursday to the press that the trip “was obviously a mistake and in hindsight I wouldn't have done it." He also has expressed regrets for criticizing California in the past for its power problems, as old statements of him railing against vacationing politicians have been flung back in his face.
“Let's be honest, you're in Cancun ... you’re at the beach drinking daiquiris,” Cruz joked in a 2015 interview with a conservative commentator while mocking a climate change summit.
The video clip was unearthed by the liberal group American Bridge, which also obtained the text messages his wife sent to neighbors ahead of the trip. The messages were first reported by the New York Times.
“The question isn’t who leaked the text messages. It’s who didn’t leak them? It’s an example of how universally reviled Ted Cruz is in public and private life, and even in his own neighborhood,” said Max Steele, a communications advisor for American Bridge, who recalled Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s quip in 2016 about his colleague: “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”
Against that backdrop, Cruz has been forced to go on a mea culpa media tour to undo some of the damage as he positions himself for a second presidential bid in 2024.
Not everyone is willing to forgive so soon.
“I don’t feel badly for him,” said Victoria Konar, a parent of a senior at St. John’s School.
“You start with the fact that there are people ticked off by those who think they’re the VIPs at this school who don’t want to be bothered to follow the rules because it infringes on their social life. Then you’ve got people on top of that who don’t like Ted Cruz,” she said. “And then you have everyone irritated because they’re freezing to death and can't bathe and can’t eat and he’s going off to the Ritz Carlton in Cancun and lying about it.”
Konar, Hollingsworth and a third parent who spoke on condition of anonymity with POLITICO praised the school for its Covid safety measures.
“It’s enraging to see this politician go out of the country like this and there’s a concern that he would be putting the school at risk if he was trying to sneak out,” the parent said. “There are just a huge number of people who are very angry at Ted Cruz, like most people in the United States.”