Nearly a year ago, our lives were upended by the pandemic, and since then, all of us have been impacted in one way or another.
This is especially true for American families. With schools and businesses shuttered, many parents had to address dual challenges of working from home and managing remote learning for their children. Unfortunately, the loss of in-person learning has resulted in significant negative consequences for some of our nation’s most vulnerable children.
As former educators, we know firsthand how important it is for students to be in the classroom, surrounded by their peers. Recent research conducted by PACE and the Stanford Graduate School of Education found that “there has been significant learning loss” as a result of the pandemic, with early-grade and low-income students “falling behind more compared to others.” Furthermore, McKinsey & Co. concluded that “students on average could lose five to nine months of learning by the end of June 2021” if the current educational situation isn’t confronted.
School closures are having a detrimental effect on our nation’s youth, and the impact is broader than just learning loss. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental health visits to the emergency room increased 24% for children 5-11 years old and 31% for adolescents 12-17 years old from March to October of last year.
In addition to straining mental health, school closures limit teachers’ ability to recognize and prevent child abuse and neglect, trapping some students in damaging circumstances. A 2018 report from the Department of Health and Human Services found that educators report more than 20% of all child maltreatment.
In select states — including our home states of Texas and North Carolina — many school districts and private schools have safely reopened. These instances have shown that, with appropriate protocols in place, schools can safely open their doors to students.
As recently as two weeks ago, the CDC called for students to return to their classrooms as soon as possible, saying the “preponderance of available evidence” indicates that in-person instruction can be carried out safely as long as mask-wearing and social distancing are maintained. Even more reassuring is the fact CDC research found that “there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community [COVID-19] transmission.”
Despite the scientific evidence showing that it is safe to reopen schools, millions of K-12 students are still barred from receiving in-person education, unable to learn and interact normally with teachers and fellow students. Many teachers’ unions, backed by the Biden administration, have retreated from their commitment to our nation’s children by refusing to make data-driven decisions. Now, it appears that CDC Director Rochelle Walensky is following suit and bowing to political pressure.
Last year, Congress provided more than $67 billion in direct federal aid to support K-12 schools. This funding was intended to give schools the resources they need to educate safely and in-person, and was more than double the CDC’s highest estimate of what it would take to implement COVID-19 mitigation strategies and reopen schools safely.
In other words, Congress has already provided significantly more funding than the CDC says is necessary to reopen schools safely. Yet, many students are still not at their desks, and money remains unused. If school closures continue, we will see lasting negative effects for our nation’s children. Instead of adhering to the fear-mongering tactics of unions, let’s follow the science — by reopening schools now.
• Kay Granger, a U.S. representative from Texas, is the lead Appropriations Committee Republican and Virginia Foxx, a U.S. representative from North Carolina, is the lead Education & Labor Committee Republican.
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