Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on Friday led his colleagues in sending a letter to Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky regarding their concerns about continued school closures and their harmful effects on children, parents, and the economy, as documented in recent research. In light of scientific research showing low community transmission in schools, especially among younger children, the letter also calls on the CDC to revise its guidelines to help schools reopen.
“We write to express our concern for the well-being of American families with school-aged children. A fully remote or hybrid model of K-12 education is straining the mental health of parents, students, and teachers while simultaneously increasing developmental, learning, and economic losses…
“Dr. Fauci has affirmed that ‘the default position should be to try as best as possible within reason to keep the children in school or to get them back to school…. If you look at the data the spread among children and from children is not really very big at all, not like one would have suspected.’..
“If the reopening of schools is not achieved, American families and students will only continue to suffer, as there will be even larger developmental, learning, and economic losses.
We ask that the CDC revise these recommendations, and urge you and other acting administration officials to work in coordination with, not against, states and local education agencies so that schools can promptly reopen in accord with the scientific evidence that has signaled it is safe to do so when proper precautionary measures are put into place.”
Cosigners of the letter include Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), and Steve Daines (R-Mont.).
The full text of the letter is below:
“Dear Director Walensky,
We write to express our concern for the well-being of American families with school-aged children. A fully remote or hybrid model of K-12 education is straining the mental health of parents, students, and teachers, while simultaneously increasing developmental, learning, and economic losses.
Some schools have already reopened and others have begun the process of reopening, but many schools have either remained closed or decided to cancel their reopening plans. A recently published study by the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee found that as of this school semester, “24 percent of schools remain fully remote, and 18 percent are teaching fully in person. . . the majority of schools (51 percent) are operating under some type of hybrid model.”
Research has identified increased anxiety and stress among American families and students due to school closures. So much so, a Pew Research Center survey conducted in October found that 59 percent of parents with school-aged children reported they are concerned for their child’s emotional well-being. In addition to this concern, school closures have had negative ramifications for the labor force and the economy.
Closing schools has separated students from important learning tools that are used in the classroom, this separation has been found to possibly hinder children’s education and sensory and social development. Further, school closures have led to poorer academic outcomes, which may result in potentially worse economic outcomes later in life. McKinsey & Company has estimated that assuming in-school instruction resumed in January of this year, the average K-12 student in the United States could lose $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings. For students who have not yet returned to the classroom, it is reasonable to assume that these losses could be even larger.
As outlined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in a report published on January 29, 2021, observing the reopening of schools in Wood County, Wisconsin, “K-12 schools can have inperson learning with limited in-school COVID-19 spread.” Further, throughout the 13 weeks of in-person learning in Wood County, Wisconsin, of the 191 cases of Covid-19 identified in students and staff members, “only seven cases, all among students, were linked to in-school spread.”
Other studies conducted throughout the nation have yielded similar results. In the fall of 2020, 11 school districts in North Carolina with more than 90,000 students and staff were reopened for in-person education for a period of 9 weeks. During this time, within-school transmissions were found to be very rare with only 32 infections acquired in schools and no cases of student-to-staff transmission. Further, in Mississippi, a case-controlled study of exposures among children aged 0 through 18 years found that in-person school attendance was not associated with increased risk of infection. These observations have led the authors of a comprehensive study on the safety of reopening schools to conclude that “as many schools have reopened for in-person instruction in some parts of the US as well as internationally, school-related cases of COVID-19 have been reported, but there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”
Dr. Fauci has affirmed that “the default position should be to try as best as possible within reason to keep the children in school or to get them back to school. . .If you look at the data, the spread among children and from children is not really very big at all, not like one would have suspected.” Additionally, you recently stated that the “vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.” This should further instill confidence that the health and safety of American teachers in their classrooms is not dependent upon access to the vaccination.
CDC recommendations released on February 17, 2021 state that schools “already open for in person instruction can remain open, but only if they strictly implement mitigation strategies and have few cases.” With more than 70 percent of nationwide K-12 student enrollment currently falling within the “high transmission” threshold, these recommendations wrongly encourage the majority of schools across the country to remain in or return to virtual-only instruction, even though some of them are already currently offering in-person instruction safely.
Additionally, these recommendations thwart the Biden administration’s goal of reopening schools for in-person instruction, five days a week, by April 30. It will be difficult to ensure that community transmission levels decrease enough to comply with the CDC guidelines before then, despite it being possible to reopen for in-person instruction, five days a week in a manner that scientific evidence has indicated is safe.
In September of last year, President Biden stated that “we need straight-forward commonsense solutions” when discussing reopening schools. The most common-sense solution is to share with K-12 schools throughout the country that science-based information has confirmed schools are currently reopening without serious risk of transmission. For the health, safety, and economic well-being of American families, the federal government should not restrict, discourage, or delay reopening schools. Instead, the federal government should work in coordination with states and local education agencies to ensure that American students return to in-person instruction as soon as possible.
If the reopening of schools is not achieved, American families and students will only continue to suffer, as there will be even larger developmental, learning, and economic losses.
We ask that the CDC revise these recommendations, and urge you and other acting administration officials to work in coordination with, not against, states and local education agencies so that schools can promptly reopen in accord with the scientific evidence that has signaled it is safe to do so when proper precautionary measures are put into place.
Senators Michael S. Lee, Joni Ernst, Tim Scott, Ben Sasse, Mike Braun, Steve Daines.”