WASHINGTON, D.C. — Republican Whip and Select Subcommittee Ranking Member Steve Scalise (R-La.) opened today’s Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing on “Challenges to Safely Reopening K-12 Schools” by emphasizing the importance of safely reopening schools for the sake of public health and our children’s future.
Whip Scalise cited the wealth of guidance and scientific information that indicates that schools can and should safely reopen this fall, following guidelines put forward by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations. Scalise reiterated the testimony on school reopenings from our nation’s top scientific experts at the Select Subcommittee’s hearing last week and concluded by thanking teachers and parents for the sacrifices they made this spring to adapt and improvise in order to fulfill the most important of our societal responsibilities: the education of our children.
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Mr. Chairman, last week our nation’s top public health official came before this Select Subcommittee and urged the importance for America’s children to safely reopen our schools for face to face learning – for educational health, for mental health, for physical health, and yes, for the public health of our children. Dr. Redfield, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testified, under oath, ‘It’s important to realize that it’s in the public health’s best interest for K-12 students to get back into face-to-face learning… There’s really very significant public health consequences of the school closure… I do think that it’s really important to realize it’s not public health versus the economy about school reopening.’
“CDC guidance adds ‘the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant… Aside from a child’s home, no other setting has more influence on a child’s health and well-being than their school.’
“Dr. Fauci said school re-openings are important for ‘the psychological welfare of the children, the fact that many children rely on schools for nutrition, for breakfast, for healthy lunches.’
“The United Nations General Secretary just this week called the situation around the globe with school closings, ‘a generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential.’
“Mr. Chairman, the overwhelming consensus among the public health community is that for the sake of the health and development of more than 50 million of America’s children, it is critical to safely reopen schools for in-person learning.
“Let’s get more specific. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) requires each state to have procedures for requiring teachers, principals, and other school personnel to report known or suspected instances of child abuse and neglect. We have seen reports of child abuse drop by an average of more than 40 percent, compared to the levels reported during the same time in 2019. Yet the evidence from hospitals strongly suggests child abuse has actually increased since the pandemic began. Teachers can’t report what they can’t see – and as a result, thousands of children are being abused in America today. We can’t sit by and make excuses – we need to follow the safety guidelines and stand up for those children who are counting on us to take action and do our jobs.
“Dr. Redfield added last week, ‘We’re seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID… We’re seeing far greater deaths from drug overdose that are above the excess that we had as background than we are seeing the deaths from COVID.’
“On the other side of the equation, CDC advises, ‘The best available evidence indicates that COVID-19 poses relatively low risks to school-aged children. Children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults… As of July 17, 2020, the United States reported that children and adolescents under 18 years old account for under 7 percent of COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1 percent of COVID-19-related deaths.’
“If we focus on the well-being of our children the question really is not should we reopen? The question really is, ‘why haven’t we started planning to safely reopen all schools to in-person learning?’
“The coronavirus continues to pose a serious threat. Dr. Redfield and Dr. Fauci gave us five things every American should do and they testified it would have a dramatic impact on reducing the virus: The face mask, the social distancing, the hand hygiene, staying smart about gatherings, and staying out of crowded bars and crowded restaurants. If we did those five things, we’ve done modeling data, we get the same bang for the buck as if we just shut the entire economy down.
“We should all do our part on those five areas. But schools present some unique and specific challenges – the good news is, each one can be responsibly addressed. The main concerns we hear are from teachers – children may not be at great risk for getting sick, but they can spread the coronavirus. Teachers with high-risk factors understandably worry. But a smart school reopening plan will ensure that 1.) the risk of COVID coming into the school is greatly reduced, 2.) the chance of it spreading within the school is also mitigated, and 3.) at-risk teachers can be socially-distanced from kids by assigning them virtual learning responsibilities or other new tasks associated with mitigating the risk of spreading COVID.
“Many schools have adopted CDC guidance on symptom screening. Every day, parents can take their own and their child’s temperature and complete a checklist for symptoms. If the child or family member exhibits any symptoms, the child stays home. While no plan is perfect, CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have laid out guidelines for safely reopening America’s schools, and those guidelines should be followed.
“Once in the schools, students, faculty, and staff of course should wear masks and have access to easy hand-sanitizing stations. Temperature checks as students move throughout the building and require physical distancing. Desks six feet or more apart. Keep students in smaller groups and do not switch classrooms. Improve ventilation by opening windows. Conduct more classes outdoors. Increase wipe-downs of desks, chairs, equipment, and supplies.
“If someone does get sick – and we know some will – have a plan in place to follow the scientific recommendations for that so the rest of the school does not have to shut down.
“Mr. Chairman, Washington, D.C., just announced their schools would not be open in the fall. Not one child under the age of 18 has died from COVID in the entire District! If DC followed all the safety guidelines listed above – and considering the devastating damage to children – how can you justify the harm you’re doing to tens of thousands of children by closing schools in DC?
“Education is a local responsibility and each school must adapt to their unique challenges. CDC guidance makes clear that a school in a hotspot must be more cautious than a school where transmission is very low. But all schools can and must develop a plan to resume in-person learning. The stakes are too high and the ability to dramatically lower risk is easily attainable enough for us to be having an actual debate about the need to come together and overcome this challenge.
“I want to conclude by saying thank you. Our teachers faced an unprecedented challenge in the spring and worked really hard to do the best they could. Parents, including myself, also became teachers in the newly-opened home school settings. I want to thank all of the teachers and parents for what they have done – and extend a thank you to all who will help us get our kids back into school this fall. I yield back.”