Science and not teachers unions should guide decision-making on schools reopening

According to available data, schools can, and should, safely reopen
By Brad Wenstrup, Andy Harris, Michael Burgess and Mariannette Miller-Meeks

Democratic leaders have spent months promising to “listen to the scientists;” however, when it comes to reopening schools and getting children back to in-person learning, their actions do not match their words.

Being both physicians and members of Congress with direct patient care experience, we have closely followed the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic and the scientific data and studies compiled over the last year. Thankfully, given the emergency authorization of two vaccines and potentially more on the way under Operation Warp Speed, we are closer than ever to getting life back to normal.  

Over the course of the past year, we have studied and learned more about this virus and have similarly improved on how we respond to and adjust to this “new normal” in a safe and healthy manner. Unfortunately, while many restaurants and other businesses have managed to reopen safely, many schools remain closed since last spring, despite risk-assessment evidence to the contrary. According to the data available — and the current administration’s own recent public statements — schools can, and should, safely reopen for the overall health and well-being of our children.

Just a few hours after President Biden’s newly appointed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) declared that “vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools,” the White House walked back the scientist’s statement, claiming it was not official CDC guidance. Clearly, that scientific answer was simply inconvenient for President Biden and Democrats. 

Teachers unions across America are pushing back on any calls for reopening and are resisting all efforts to take steps in that direction. Coupled with mounting parental frustration, local leaders are feeling pressure on all sides. Even some of our nation’s most liberal cities have reached a breaking point — Chicago’s mayor, while calling for schools to reopen, says discussions with the local union have gone “backward.” San Francisco’s city attorney is suing its own school board and district over their reopening plan, calling it “ambiguous, empty rhetoric.”

Amongst the heated and contentious conversations, scientific facts should guide our solutions, and here’s what we know. First, children are not at great risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19. Second, while Democrats call for billions in new funding to help schools reopen, there are still billions in unspent funding for educational services from the previous COVID-19 relief packages, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Congress most recently provided an additional $82 billion for the Education Stabilization Fund in the December relief package. Third, and most critical to getting students and teachers back in the classroom, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Wolensky stated just this past week that the data — the science — supports the notion that schools can reopen even without teacher vaccinations.

The data is clear. Unfortunately, some of our nation’s public schools are failing our children. Virtual learning yields subpar results, and many students are falling further behind, especially those in low-income and underprivileged communities. Additionally, Clark County, Nevada, serves as a glaring example of the serious mental anguish children are enduring, as they have already had double the number of student suicides compared to last year. Unfortunately, the detrimental effects of keeping kids home are great, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics has stressed the importance of students returning to in-person learning.

We should never allow teachers unions or any other entity to make unscientific decisions that affect the health and well-being of our children. We must listen to the scientists and reopen our schools immediately.

Dr. Brad Wenstrup specializes in podiatric medicine and surgery and is a co-chair of the GOP Doctor’s Caucus. He is an Iraq War veteran and currently serves as a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. Dr. Andy Harris specializes in anesthesiology and is the former head of obstetric anesthesiology at Johns Hopkins University. He serves as co-chair of the GOP Doctor’s Caucus. Dr. Michael Burgess specializes in obstetrics and gynecology and practiced medicine in North Texas. He was recently elected a co-chair of the GOP Doctor’s Caucus for the 117th Congress. Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks specializes in ophthalmology, served as president of the Iowa Medical Society, and is a former member of the Army Reserve. She was just elected to Congress to represent Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District and is a member of the GOP Doctor’s Caucus.