Dusty Johnson: School re-entry is crucial


August is just around the corner – can you believe it? It is almost hard to process. For more than five months, most of the country has had their K-12 aged kids at home, full-time. Five months.

 That’s five months without face-to-face interaction with teachers and fellow students. Five months without in-classroom learning. Five months without access to many of the special learning programs our students desperately need. Our country still has a ways to go – we are still getting COVID-19 under control. Our actions need to continue to be data driven, but if there is a way for America to safely get kids and teachers back in the classroom in August, we absolutely should. It needs to be one of our nation’s top priorities.

 With three young children of my own, I have seen the effects school closures place on our youth firsthand. It’s an unfortunate reality, but it is the reality – working parents cannot dedicate the time necessary to ensure our children are given a learning experience the classroom normally would provide. It’s too soon to fully quantify the setbacks this generation of youth will face for being out of the classroom, but we do know that on top of an education, our system provides a safe environment many children do not have at home, reliable nutrition, and fundamental social and emotional skills that will be utilized forever. State and local governments should do everything in their power to avoid prolonging irreversible impacts on an entire generation of students.

 School closures also place a disproportionate impact on children in low-income homes. The American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization dedicated to the health of all children, raised a strong point in their recent guidance for school re-entry: “Policy makers should acknowledge that COVID-19 policies are intended to mitigate, not eliminate, risk.” We are facing a tough reality – we must balance the health and safety risks COVID-19 presents to teachers and communities, while also acknowledging the potential long-term damage children face by being kept out of the classroom.

It’s not lost on me – I know this is a tough situation and every state is unique. South Dakota’s school reopenings will look differently than New York’s. That is why it is so important local governments and individual schools remain in control of reopening decisions, but I urge localities to consider the long-term impact our students will face if we keep schools closed into the fall. This can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach, but our goals should be the same: reopen our schools safely and expediently for the benefit of children across the nation.

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