Follow the science and reopen schools

The CDC says it can be done safely, so why are we continuing to ignore our struggling students

School buses are parked in a lot on New York Avenue Northeast in Washington in July 2020. Not bringing students back to the classroom now could disadvantage an entire generation of Americans, Carter writes. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
School buses are parked in a lot on New York Avenue Northeast in Washington in July 2020. Not bringing students back to the classroom now could disadvantage an entire generation of Americans, Carter writes. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted February 12, 2021 at 6:00am

Nearly a year after the world came to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many things we still do not know about this virus. One thing we do know: Children can and should be safely back in school for in-person learning.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently confirmed that the “preponderance of available evidence” shows rapid COVID-19 spread does not occur in a school setting and instruction can be safe. With proper disinfecting procedures, mask wearing, ventilation and physical distancing, our country’s students can go back to school.

Sadly, unions and special interests have been arguing that students shouldn’t be back in classrooms, despite the educational, social, mental health and physical health consequences of staying home.

For example, the teachers’ union in Northern Virginia’s ultra-liberal Fairfax County only wants schools reopened after 14 days of zero community spread, an almost impossible metric to meet. Meanwhile, the union’s desire to keep children at home has resulted in an 83 percent increase in failing grades, with students who have disabilities seeing a 111 percent increase. Across the country, children from low-income households are also seeing a disproportionate setback to their learning opportunities.

These decisions are actively hurting children’s growth, while setting extreme metrics for a return to in-person instruction.

And it isn’t just student report cards that are experiencing turmoil. A tragic increase in student suicides drove a Las Vegas school system to reopen, and the CDC has reported a 31 percent increase in teenage mental health issues. Young kids are also experiencing worsening obesity rates during the pandemic with nearly 1 in 5 children overweight. Many of those children depend on school meals to supplement their diets and provide healthy foods. Additionally, there are concerns that increased time on a computer or tablet screen could have long-term implications on vision.

Just as we can safely reopen businesses and restaurants, we can reopen our schools too. In December, Congress allocated $82 billion to help schools reopen. Last March, Congress gave school systems $30 billion to help purchase personal protective equipment and adjust to CDC-recommended COVID-19 protocols. Yet President Biden’s chief of staff in a CNN interview sided with teachers’ unions to keep schools closed despite his own CDC saying otherwise.

[K Street, political parents channel advocacy into reopening schools]

Our kids deserve the best education they can get. They need to be in the classroom with their peers around them and teachers to help them learn. If this doesn’t happen, the long-term damage on our students would be irreversible.

But not everyone would be impacted. Some children have the advantage of living in an area that has reopened schools. In other areas, I’ve spoken to parents who have been forced to move their children from the public schools they love to private schools that are doing in-person learning. As we all know, not all families have the luxury to make this change. Anyone who supports equal education for all should be yelling from the rooftops that all kids need to be back in the classroom, not just some.

In the meantime, I’ll start yelling from the rooftops for them.

The next time you’re with a kid, ask what they think. I bet many will tell you they miss their friends, they are having trouble keeping up through a screen or they are tired of looking at their sibling all day.

Not bringing students back to the classroom now could disadvantage an entire generation of Americans. As a dad and grandfather, I’m not willing to stay silent.

President Biden has said children need to get back to school in his first 100 days, but we can’t afford to wait. In 100 days, most students will be at or near the end of the semester. President Biden needs to step in now and demand that our nation’s schools are fully reopened immediately.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve heard over and over that we should follow the science, as we should. Let’s follow through on that and reopen our schools.

Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter is a Republican representing Georgia’s 1st District.