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"Proceed with Appropriate Care"

Washington, D.C., July 27, 2020
Friends, we need to have a conversation about how to safely re-open our schools. I know there’s a lot of differing views on this issue, and it’s hard to find any topic right now with a wider range of opinions. But here’s what I see on the federal level and across our congressional district in South Carolina:
First, I agree with our CDC Director, Dr. Robert Redfield, who said keeping schools closed “is a GREATER public health threat to the children than having the schools reopen.”

Why is that? What's the reasoning behind his assessment?

🟢 For starters, as the Wall Street Journal put it, “remote learning isn’t comparable to in-person teaching.” I think few people would argue with that.

🟢 Second, the ability for children to connect with one another is very important to their mental health and social development, as the Harvard University School of Public Health recently pointed out.

🟢 Third, I believe education is absolutely essential. Because this pandemic may be with us for a while longer, we CANNOT allow our children to sit idle and fall even further behind academically.

(Now, here’s where it starts to really hit home for me…)

🟢 Fourth, children from lower income families are disproportionately disadvantaged by not being in school. Many simply do not have access to tools needed for remote learning. Additionally, a significant number of our children rely on their schools for food and proper nutrition. PLEASE do not discount the legitimacy of this just because it may not apply to your family. These are very real concerns for many families.

🟢 Fifth, rural children are disproportionately disadvantaged by remote learning compared to children in more urban areas. In large part, this is due to lack of rural broadband. While this has been a big issue for me in Congress, it takes many years and billions of dollars to build out this type of infrastructure. Without reliable internet, remote learning is very difficult for many rural families.

These are among the reasons why our CDC Director is encouraging our schools to try to safely re-open if possible. And he’s not alone! The American Academy of Pediatrics says we should “start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says that “school districts should prioritize reopening schools full time.” And the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends “that school reopening plans proceed with appropriate care.”

But there’s more to the story. Let’s not forget about the parents. Whether we’re talking about a single parent or a two-income married couple with kids, when schools are closed it often means a parent must take unpaid leave from work. In other words, keeping children out of the classroom often causes a financial hardship for many families, which in turn hurts our economy’s efforts to get back on its feet.

On a separate front, I certainly hear and understand the concern some parents have about the possibility of COVID spreading in schools. Based on current guidance from the CDC, this “poses relatively low risks to school-aged children” and that infection rates “among younger school children, and from students to teachers, has been low, especially if proper precautions are followed.”

*** And that’s the key phrase: proper precautions.

Clearly our path forward with re-opening schools MUST require a rigid and consistent adherence to safety protocols. Because no two schools are alike, this means our local school boards are running point on this effort, starting “with a goal of having students physically present” and determining if and how that’s possible. I know that across our area, hundreds of education and health officials are working tirelessly on this front.

Ultimately, the decision should ALWAYS be with the parents to do what they believe is in the best interest of their children. Based on everything we know right now, I think it would be wrong to deny those parents the option for an in-person education unless their schools or classrooms cannot (for whatever reason) adhere to safety protocols.

Particularly when so much is at stake with our children's education and development.

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