It’s been almost a year since California was put under a state-mandated lockdown by Gov. Gavin Newsom. What was supposed to be a short-term lockdown is turning into a year or more.
While everyone was impacted in different ways by this deadly pandemic, students, teachers and parents quickly found themselves confronting bigger issues when it came to virtual learning. As a result of these lockdowns, many students fell behind in school and it also took a toll on many students’ mental health.
Recently, the Joe Biden administration’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director said, “There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen, and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated.” But despite the science that says we can safely reopen schools, far too many remain closed.
I have been fighting and will continue to fight to open our schools. I sent a letter to President Biden urging him to follow the science and encourage state and local leaders to reopen schools across California and the United States. The CDC has shown increasing data suggesting that schools could safely reopen and that teachers do not necessarily need to be vaccinated to do so.
Just last week, I cosponsored the Reopen Schools Act, which would help get students safely back in the classroom by incentivizing schools to safely reopen. The Reopen Schools Act would make two-thirds of the $54 billion in K-12 education COVID-19 funding conditional upon the state working to have kids back in school. This bill deserves bipartisan support and I hope that it receives a vote on the House floor and makes its way to the president’s desk.
Not only does the science show that we can safely reopen schools, but data regarding just how bad the impacts of school shutdowns are is alarming. According to reports, emergency rooms have seen a 24% increase in mental health-related visits from children ages 5-11, and at an even higher rate of 31% among older children. As a father of two young sons, seeing these statistics is frightening.
I have even spoken directly with families in the district that shared stories of the lockdowns taking such a toll on a student’s mental health that it resulted in a death by suicide. These tragic stories serve as a deadly reminder of just how serious the consequences of these lockdowns are on our communities. Students need a school environment to thrive and grow — we can’t continue to keep them out of school.
Students themselves have even been vocal about their issues regarding the lockdowns. Recently, a high school football player from a school in California’s 25th District called out Gov. Newsom about the lockdown and the effects it had on his senior year. He shared his story by stating that he had zero offers from college teams to play sports due to not playing football because of virtual learning. Many high school seniors found themselves in that very predicament due to COVID-19 lockdowns.
Not only are students speaking out against school closure, but also I’ve heard from many teachers eager to get back to school as well. However, instead of listening to the science, or thinking of the children, or even listening to many teachers, the White House and local leaders are listening to the leaders of the teacher’s unions. Now, many teachers are caught up in the web of these unions, afraid of the repercussions if they don’t join the union-led strikes against opening schools.
We can’t let this continue. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – it is time to listen to the science and open our schools, now. Our children are struggling and it’s past time that we put their needs ahead of special interests of teachers unions.
Rep. Mike Garcia represents the 25th Congressional District, which includes the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys.