Approximately 3 million of the most marginalized students in the country have been missing from our schools since March 2020. That’s 3 million children completely isolated from the services, socialization, and education they so desperately need.
The consequences of taking school away from children have been severe. Teen suicide rates have skyrocketed. Overdoses are at their highest levels ever. Students still lack access to the technology they need to access their educational materials. As Lawrence Jones aptly expressed on Fox News Primetime, our students are struggling in silence.
We are witnessing one of the greatest failures of government on a generation in history.
Despite promises to make opening schools a priority, the Biden administration has walked back expectations due to mounting pressure from unions and activist groups. Instead, they’ve called for standardized testing to establish a “baseline” of where students are due to the pandemic—an interesting request, considering the doors to most of our schools aren’t even open yet.
A simple scan of the headlines and the cries of the teacher’s unions would lead one to believe it is nearly impossible to safely open our public schools to help these children and the millions of families who are suffering in the face of lockdowns and lockouts.
This is patently false. Across the nation, hundreds of school districts have been open since last Fall, educating students safely, addressing learning gaps, and making sure our children don’t fall farther behind.
In fact, the Council of the Great City Schools reported as of March 1, 2021, 51 of its 76 member districts—serving 8.2 million children—are open for some type of in-person learning. Many are offering school sports, arts, and other extracurriculars to ensure a quality experience for those families who make that choice.
We are one of those families.
My son had the opportunity to return to school in person last September. With transparency and a commitment to safety, our district has done an amazing job providing an education to students both in-person and virtually, depending on family choice.
My son returned to school in person, played football, basketball, and is now competing in school-sponsored track and field. I didn’t make this decision in a vacuum—science and CDC recommendations told me it was safe, and my son is exponentially better for it. His mental health and overall engagement are so much better than last Spring.
But I have to ask—what are these schools doing that the others claim they cannot? Why is the media allowing teacher’s unions to falsely claim we cannot safely open schools when it is very clear from tangible examples that it is, in fact, possible and being done at this very moment?
It cannot simply be vaccine access, as the CDC director said schools can safely reopen without vaccinating teachers. It cannot be because people fear classrooms are super spreader events, because that has been disproven. It cannot be a lack of evidence that safety protocols can be implemented effectively since thousands of schools are open and functioning without incident.
The interest groups who are encouraging school closures are building an achievement gap that will haunt our youngest generation for the duration of their lives. Children who are currently in school are not only happier, healthier, and growing in their education—they are advancing rapidly past their peers who are stuck at home.
These disparities increasingly fall on socio-economic lines, where gaps were already severe and where they are the hardest to overcome. By refusing to open schools, or at least give families a choice, unions and public officials are failing these children. And they’re doing so in the face of overwhelming evidence that this can and should be done and is working where it’s happening.
It’s time to stop playing games. It’s time to stop moving the goalposts on our children. It’s time to stand up for the students who are suffering at home, and open ALL of our schools now.
Whitney Munro is a mother, former educator, strategic advisor, and president of Walden Strategies.