Editors' Note: the following is an op-ed from Rep. Tom Tiffany submitted to DrydenWire.com on the importance of reopening our schools and sending students back to the classroom this fall.
Over the last few months, Americans have watched politicians and bureaucrats repeatedly leverage reasonable public concerns about coronavirus to stoke unreasonable hysteria. The latest front in this unfortunate fearmongering campaign is the debate over reopening schools for in-classroom instruction this fall.
Just this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed, without evidence, that “going back to school presents the biggest risk for the spread of the coronavirus.” The Speaker’s unsubstantiated claim drew a swift rebuke from the Hoover Institution’s Dr. Scott Atlas, a former chief of neurology at Stanford University Medical Center. Atlas suggested Ms. Pelosi might need to do her homework – dismissing the Speaker’s baseless allegation as “completely wrong and contrary to all the science...from all over the world,” adding “the risk to children from this disease for fatalities is nearly zero.”
Dr. Atlas is of course, correct. And the evidence is overwhelming.
A recent study conducted by the University of Dresden in Germany released this month revealed that out of more than 2,000 blood samples collected from students and teachers in more than a dozen secondary schools, a mere 12 were found to contain coronavirus antibodies. Researchers concluded that “the dynamics of virus spreading have been overestimated,” adding that the results “provide evidence that virus transmission in families is not as dynamic as previously thought.”
Assessments in Finland and Denmark reached similar conclusions. Denmark’s decision to reopen schools was described as “prudent” and researchers found that in-classroom instruction did not have “a negative effect on the spread among school children or in the society in general.”
Here at home, a recent analysis of more than 900 child care centers serving 20,000 children conducted by a Brown University economist found that as of last month, confirmed infections of staff and children were just 1 percent and 0.16 percent, respectively. Moreover, 30 children under age 15 have died from coronavirus nationwide – far fewer than the number that die each year from the flu, suicide, homicide or accidental deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Wisconsin, not a single person under 19 years of age has died as a result of COVID-19.
As a father, I have seen first-hand how open-ended school shutdowns have harmed the education of our kids. These closures have set our students back, made it harder for our teachers to teach, and pushed many parents – already juggling multiple responsibilities and struggling to make ends meet – to the breaking point. And Wisconsin parents aren’t alone. Recent research indicates that mandatory distance learning, which has been plagued by unreliable internet connections and a lack of access by some families to the latest computer technology, is causing students across the country to lose ground in areas like reading and math, often harming low-income kids the most. One recent survey of several school districts conducted by Reuters found that fewer than half are even taking attendance during online courses.
All of this may explain why the American Academy of Pediatrics noted in late June that “there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020.” The group also suggested that the long-term dangers of keeping schools shuttered far outweighs the risks of resuming in-person classes.
And despite the sometimes bombastic rhetoric of teachers union executives, recent polling from Ipsos indicates that a significant majority of teachers, 57%, support returning to the classroom 5 days a week. Parents, too, are ready for their kids to get back to class. More than 6 in 10 say they expect schools to open this fall and over two-thirds plan to send their kids back, according to a Rasmussen survey.
There are steps Congress can take to help with a speedy and safe reopening, and I am committed to doing my part. I joined my colleague Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana in proposing legislation to ensure that additional federal funds are conditioned on a return to in-person learning, and I have thrown my support behind common-sense liability protections that would prevent trial lawyers from targeting our community schools with junk lawsuits during the pandemic.
It’s also important to note that the White House has taken unprecedented steps to remove regulatory barriers that stand in the way of speedy government approval of a vaccine. This week, two experimental vaccines were given a “fast track” designation by the Food and Drug Administration. Results of trials are expected as early as this month, and developers say that they could potentially produce up to 100 million doses of the vaccine by the end of this year. The administration has also secured a large supply of the drug Remdesivir, which has shown promise in helping sick patients recover.
There seems to be an emerging consensus that blanket school closures make little sense, and that we can reopen our schools safely in a way that protects our kids, our teachers and our most vulnerable neighbors. That’s the good news. The bad news is that election year partisanship and scare-tactics threaten the future of our kids, who fall further and further behind the longer we keep them out of the classroom.
Tom Tiffany represents Wisconsin’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives and is a member of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology