For nearly an entire year of school closures, millions of parents across America have made countless sacrifices to meet the educational needs of their children. Many took on the roles of teachers, coaches, and tutors, all while balancing their own daily responsibilities and for many, full-time jobs.
Despite their herculean efforts, parents have hit a breaking point. In the midst of a surging mental health crisis, countless missed meals, free-falling literacy progress, and many other consequences of isolating our nation’s youth, parents are understandably asking why — why are kids still learning virtually when there is enough data that shows classrooms are safe to reopen? Why do children continue to be isolated from their teachers and peers when we know there has been a surge of mental health risks?
Parents are rightfully demanding answers. Over the past year, families have established and led “reopen schools” groups that have formed across the country, from Atlanta to Baltimore, and Los Angeles to the Beltway, demanding accountability from their respective Governors, Mayors, Superintendents, and School Boards.
To hear directly from these parents, House Republicans hosted a call yesterday with over one hundred parent leaders in these organizations to continue to hear their concerns and work to forge a path together to safely reopening their children’s school full time.
The urgency of reopening schools cannot be overstated. One mother from California stressed the urgency of opening public schools in her state. “More children attend public school in California than anywhere else in the nation… it really should be a national priority to open our schools.”
As a member of Open Schools CA, a state-wide coalition, she is helping parents lobby local and state officials to reopen schools. And as a parent of young children, she is also able to relate to the education crisis on a personal level: “School at my kids’ age is more about the social-emotional connection, and I worry about the damage that the isolation and the screen time has done to my kids.”
Instead of receiving reassurance from the government, parents have been disappointed and discouraged by the lack of accountability from their government. Many of the families view the new CDC guidelines as just another “roadblock” to schools reopening.
Nonetheless, parents have been relentless in their advocacy. These groups speak at school board meetings, attend open office hours hosted by the school boards, and set up private meetings with local and state leaders and public health officials. They have taken action with phone campaigns and online petitions that have gathered thousands of signatures, and have appeared on local, national and international media.
A mother of two from New York who was also on the call said, “We are all grassroots… a team of passionate moms and dads working nights and weekends trying to connect and support each other on an increasing number of national petitions, lawsuits, FOIA requests, and [through] social media outcry – whatever we can be doing to move the needle.”
With the goal posts for reopening schools constantly shifting, these parents expressed how they feel about upending their lives and still being completely shut out of the decision making process. As one of the parents on the call put it, “Since March we’ve been an integral part of our children’s education, but right now we don’t have a seat at the bargaining table.”
Another mother of three from the Washington, D.C. area explained that, “The trust level here is very low, and until we see our kids actually walking in the building and sitting behind their desks, we are going to keep pushing forward.”
The passionate parents devoting their time to these groups are shining an important spotlight on the need to get children back in the classroom.
To any parent reading this: you are not alone. We see the struggles you are going through, we understand the pain you feel seeing your children kept out of school, and we appreciate the amazing work so many of you have done by joining together and letting your voices be heard.
Together, we will continue this fight and make sure every child in America has access to a high quality, safe in-person education.