Sunday, October 24, 2021

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Political Voices: Back to School

Summer is coming to an end and students across South Dakota are heading back to school. I was home to see my three boys off to start the 2021-2022 school year this week.

While many schools in our state remained open during this past year, the same cannot be said about school districts across the country.

According to UNESCO, American schools were closed either fully or partially for 58 weeks. In comparison, Canadian schools were closed 51 weeks and schools in the United Kingdom 27 weeks. 

How has over a year of school closures impacted students? Study after study is showing significant learning loss for students participating in distance learning. Additionally, truancy rates are up and attainment rates in core subjects like math and reading are down.

The impacts that loss of instruction time, student to teacher interaction, and peer collaboration will have on our kids cannot be minimized. While the effects of school closures on the mental, emotional, and social well-being of our children cannot be fully realized, even the CDC has published a survey suggesting that virtual instruction presents more risks to a student’s mental and emotional health than in-person learning.    

These datapoints are not to downplay the effort and creativity of teachers and administrators alike in trying to make remote learning as engaging and effective as possible. But when we are dealing with something as transformative and significant as educating the next generation, we must stop and think about the impact a decision to keep schools closed will have on our youth in the short and long term.  

Back in March 2021, a year after COVID-19 began, only half of American schoolchildren were in person partially or full. I am grateful for the school administrators and teachers who went above and beyond to ensure South Dakota schools were safely open to students last school year. 

To date, Congress has authorized an unprecedented $190.5 billion to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to provide financial assistance to state and local educational agencies to ensure that schools can reopen safely. Teacher health and student welfare do not have to be at odds.

I firmly believe that a good education opens doors and sets a child up for success. The data is clear that it is best for students to be in the classroom learning. 

The Biden Administration has assured me it’s their top priority to keep schools open as our nation continues to deal with COVID-19 – it’s imperative they follow through on that promise. It’s time to reopen and keep open our schools.      

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