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Adrian Daily Telegram: Safely returning to the classroom

August 5, 2020
Opinion Editorial

Summer is winding down, and a new school year is just around the corner. Given the uncertainty caused by COVID-19, there are a lot of questions regarding what school will look like.

As a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor, this issue has been top of mind for my colleagues and I. Throughout this pandemic, I have made it a priority to listen to parents, students and educators about the challenges facing schools as we combat the virus together. Over the past several weeks, I have spoken with superintendents from Lenawee, Monroe and counties across the district to hear about their needs as they get ready for the fall.

As these preparations continue, we can’t lose sight of several key data points.

First, leading experts advocate the importance of safely returning to the classroom. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued guidance in June “that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” Similarly, Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control, recently emphasized in Congressional testimony: “it is in the public health interest that these K-12 students get these schools back open for face-to-face learning.”

Second, there is no substitute for in-person learning when it comes to a child’s emotional, physical and academic development. Without a classroom environment, the possibility of learning loss is very real. A June report by McKinsey found that the average student could fall behind seven months in their studies due to COVID related disruptions. Months of social isolation has also taken a toll on our children’s wellbeing, and a classroom provides a critical avenue for kids to connect with their peers and gain social skills.

Third, school building closures disproportionally hurt the most vulnerable children and families. Millions of students rely on going to school for services that can be difficult to replicate at home, including mental health counseling, nutritional assistance, and hands-on support for special needs and learning disabilities.

To be sure, each school is unique in its size, location, building capacity and staffing structure. No one-size-fits-all approach will appropriately determine best practices for welcoming students back to school, and parents should be given an option as to what works best for their child’s situation.

School districts will likely incur additional costs associated with incorporating these safety measures. Thanks to the federal CARES Act, the state of Michigan was allocated $479 million in emergency relief for our state’s education system. So far, only a small fraction—$70,000 as of the end of May—of that dedicated funding has been spent. If additional resources are necessary, I remain committed to working with my colleagues to help ensure schools are fully equipped for a safe reopening and successful school year.

Providing quality and effective education for our kids is an essential undertaking in our society. With smart safety precautions in place, we can responsibly reopen our schools, minimize further disruption to student learning and development, and protect the health of everyone involved in the education system. Our children are counting on us to make it happen.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, represents Michigan’s 7th District and is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Education and Labor Committee. This op-ed originally appeared in the August 5 edition of the Adrian Daily Telegram.

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