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There are several reasons we say getting our children back into the classrooms is an immediate national priority. The obvious is the reality that the students aren’t performing as well at home. For example, in school districts across the Los Angeles area, the number of students receiving grades D’s and F’s are up 200-300% from last year. On the other side of the country, it’s the same story. Further, as many as three million students were simply not enrolled in school this past fall at all, and many school districts cannot account for their whereabouts. These concerns also disproportionately affect low-income children and minorities, further widening an already large gap. Families who can afford it are taking their kids out of their local public schools and paying for private schools offering in-person learning.

The real sense of urgency in calling for students to get back in the classroom lies underneath the obvious academic indicators: it’s the mental health toll on America’s children that comes from sitting in a room in front of a screen with little to no interaction with friends or teachers all day, every day. The worst part about this failure by our country’s leaders is that the consequences of en masse remote learning were clear from the beginning. 

Republicans have been saying it for months: reopen the schools.

A New York Times report from yesterday and every other similar report that comes out on a daily basis only serve as harrowing reminders of how those in charge let a temporary policy meant to buy time against a new and unknown virus get irresponsibly and irreparably employed as the norm.

In Clark County, Nevada, a monitoring system was set up to keep an eye on the mental health of students in the local districts. In just this one county, officials have received over 3,100 alerts about suicidal thoughts, possible self-harm, or calls for help. By December, the report says, 18 students had taken their own lives — the youngest being just 9 years old.

Not only were calls to reopen schools ignored or denied in the face of multiple studies concluding schools do not lead to coronavirus spread, the heated rhetoric of the media and teachers’ unions fueled an environment in which even the parents of kids who had taken their own lives felt they were not allowed to make the connection to school closures. This environment allowed those who are supposed to put our students’ best interests first to make a mockery of such a sacred contract.

This line from the Times report struck us extra hard: “A video that Brad Hunstable made in April, two days after he buried his 12-year-old son, Hayden, in their hometown Aledo, Texas, went viral after he proclaimed, ‘My son died from the coronavirus.’ But, he added, ‘not in the way you think.’”

President Biden says opening schools is part of his 100 day plan. Unfortunately, we don’t have 100 days. The numbers suggest much of the damage is already done. And if it takes that long, the semester is essentially already over.

It’s difficult to look at the open casinos, the stadiums filling back up, the politicians dancing in the streets with thousands of people, while our children sit home left behind.

We have said it before, but we must do better.