Lansing State Journal op-ed: We need to put students first and reopen schools now
The New York Times recently surveyed some of the leading pediatric disease experts in the country — 175 in total — about resuming face-to-face schooling. The scientific consensus? It is safe for students to return to the classroom.
In fact, many experts noted the long-term costs of keeping schools shuttered were far greater. One of those surveyed, Dr. Uzma Hasan, division chief of pediatric infectious diseases at a New Jersey hospital, concluded: “The mental health crisis caused by school closing will be a worse pandemic than COVID.”
Students not only need in-person learning for educational growth, but also for their emotional, physical and mental well-being. Overwhelmingly, virtual schooling has been insufficient in meeting these critical developmental needs. Tragically, the resulting mental health challenges and widening gaps in achievement will be felt for years to come.
In Congress, I have been advocating for safely reopening schools since last summer. Of course, incorporating the appropriate health precautions while welcoming students back is a top priority. Each school district is unique and the approach to reopening is not one-size-fits-all. But the longer we delay getting students back in the classroom more regularly so they can get the attention they deserve, the longer we continue to set back a generation of students.
Last week, the Education and Labor Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee, both panels I am privileged to serve on, held markups to consider Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s latest $2 trillion stimulus package. In each committee, Republicans offered a series of substantive amendments to assist in the reopening process, including increasing dedicated funding for COVID-19 testing in schools and vaccines allocated for teachers. Each time, the Democrats’ obstructed these provisions on a party-line vote.
Despite the well-established science, the Biden Administration has also dragged its feet on reopening schools. After the election, President Joe Biden said he wanted most schools opened by the end of his first 100 days in office. It didn’t take long for his press secretary to move the goalposts, qualifying that the President’s 100-day pledge only meant “teaching at least one day a week in the majority of schools by day 100.” Those caveats simply won’t cut it for struggling students, stressed teachers, or overworked parents.
It is past time to follow the science, listen to the medical experts, and get students back in the school to receive the best education possible. Our children don’t belong to a special interest group or political party. They’re just kids. As parents and policymakers, it is up to us to advocate for their best interests. We must put politics aside, put our children first, and reopen America’s classrooms.
U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, represents Michigan’s 7th District. This op-ed originally appeared in the Februrary 18 edition of the Lansing State Journal.