When the novel coronavirus first began to spread across the United States, many self-proclaimed experts and pundits demanded that Americans “follow the science” — but the underlying message was clear: stop asking questions.
As a result, local governments shut down schools, childcare facilities, and more as part of a nationwide effort to “stop the spread.” The current attempt to keep schools closed, however, puts a political agenda ahead of overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrating that our students can and should head back to the classroom.
American parents are well aware that the sudden closure of schools led to a disruptive decline in students’ wellbeing. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has linked school closures with negative effects on their health, education, and development. Academically, these effects are heightened for students in Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous communities and for students with learning challenges. Other studies have similarly found that prolonged closures contribute to higher rates of pandemic-related anxiety, depression, and suicide. In addition to the clear negative impacts resulting from school closures, health officials from the CDC confirmed that a student is less likely to become infected with COVID-19 in a school setting when compared to the general community.
Against the best interests of their pupils, countless teacher unions across the nation have actively refused to help students get back in the classroom. That’s not hyperbole; it’s the truth. In Chicago, members of the union rejected district orders by voting to collectively refuse to work, and in West Virginia, one union filed a lawsuit to stop the state’s effort to reopen schools. From claiming that vaccines aren’t enough to encouraging teachers to strike, teacher unions are ignoring the science and standing in the way of what’s best for our nation’s children.
President Biden and Vice President Harris were initially interested in encouraging a return to in-person learning, but as teacher union demands increased, their willingness to follow the science evaporated. Now, administration officials all but refuse to answer any meaningful questions on the matter and have already walked back their “bold and ambitious” goal for reopening to a metric most districts have already surpassed.
Fortunately, many schools in Tennessee are prioritizing their students’ wellbeing. Last week, I had a roundtable discussion with superintendents from Gibson County. Our discussion on technological barriers and logistical hurdles made one thing abundantly clear — Tennessee teachers have stayed true to their mission of empowering our nation’s future leaders.
Next month will mark almost a full year of school shutdowns, and following the science has never been more important. Though some political leaders would rather shift their stance to appease interest groups, I promise to work alongside Tennessee teachers, students, and parents to address challenges and ensure a safe and swift return to the classroom.
Marsha Blackburn has represented Tennessee in the U.S. Senate since 2019.