Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-IA) introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to condition COVID financial relief on schools reopening, money Congress appropriated in December for this purpose.
H.R. 682, the Reopen Schools Act, would ensure the $54 billion that Congress provided to reopen schools is allocated to schools that reopen for in-person learning.
During a House budget debate last week, Republicans offered the bill for consideration. Democrats promptly blocked the bill on a party-line vote.
Currently, only one-third of K-12 students in the United States are attending traditional in-person schools, even though the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) released data showing K-12 schools can reopen safely.
In her remarks on the House Floor, Hinson said, “The science shows that kids need to be back in school. Even the CDC has confirmed schools are not a high-transmission environment. Young kids have an extremely low infection rate, a low transmission rate, and a low rate of serious illness from COVID-19.”
“And yet, they are forced to stay home and learn from behind a computer screen—that is, if these kids have access to a computer and broadband internet,” Hinson said. “For many students, especially those in rural Iowa, virtual learning isn’t easy. It’s not just going downstairs and logging on to the family computer. It’s sitting in the parking lot of the Cedar Rapids library to try and connect to wi-fi to finish their homework or take a test.
“It’s no surprise that our most vulnerable students are the ones who will suffer the most negative and longest-lasting impacts here,” Hinson said. “The isolation, lack of social support, added stress, and environmental strain of this lockdown has gone on far too long.”
CDC researchers in January published their findings showing “little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.” On February 3, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky noted at a White House briefing, “There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated.”
The largest political obstacle to schools reopening comes from teachers unions, the leaders of which have insisted on implementation of extensive safety measures, such as vaccinating all teachers, before reopening schools.
The city of San Francisco is suing its own school district over this issue, and the Chicago Teachers Union has been in a protracted fight with Chicago Public Schools, openly defying their reopening plan.
The West Virginia state teachers union has filed lawsuits challenging the state’s mandate to return to in-person learning. After the teachers union in Fairfax County, Virginia demanded its teachers be moved to the front of the line for vaccinations before reopening, the union reneged on the agreement to return to the schools, even for the fall 2021 semester.
There is a rift among Democratic leaders on this issue, with 2020 Democrat presidential nomination candidate Michael Bloomberg having recently penned an op-ed arguing for a return to in-person learning. The health risks are very low for students and teachers, whereas there’s a tremendous threat to children in terms of delayed learning development and a documented increase in mental health problems, Bloomberg argued.
Republican lawmakers have been largely unified in support of schools reopening.