Dan Newhouse

Congressman Dan Newhouse

In the tunnels of the U.S. Capitol, on a wall lined with creative, inspiring pieces from our nation’s brightest students, one catches the eye. A student’s self-portrait, etched in shades of gray, shows him peering into his sealed-off classroom with an unsettling look you can’t quite place. Is it longing? Fear? Anger? Perhaps it’s all of them and more.

The piece, created by an 11th grader from Hanford High, is titled simply, and aptly: A Year Overdue.

We’ve faced many challenges over the last two years, and with the ever-changing COVID-19 guidelines, metrics, and goalposts from local, state, and federal governments, it’s been tough to keep up- especially for our students. Across the country, children have been pulled out of their classrooms and placed online. Children who already struggled to speak up or keep up struggled further, rates of depression and anxiety skyrocketed in a group that should otherwise be healthy and resilient, and tragic suicides occurred. These are unacceptable consequences of a reaction to a virus that, by and large, poses little risk to them.

We cannot continue to allow our response to the pandemic cause more harm to our children than the virus itself.

According to NWEA Research, children fell far behind in school during the first year of the pandemic and still have not caught up. Yet our very own Washington Education Association (WEA) union President Larry Delaney said, “our kids are resilient. Across the country everyone has missed certain learning. So, if everyone is ‘behind,’ I guess no one is behind.”

This statement is nothing short of appalling. Apparently, to some, education is no longer important.

To make matters worse, the shortfalls in education outcomes were worst for Black and Hispanic students, as well as students in schools with high poverty rates. Rural areas, including many in Central Washington, are also disproportionately impacted by decisions to conduct online-only education. Not only do many of our communities lack adequate access to digital infrastructure, but also face limited childcare options and longer distances to work, which places extra, unfair hardships on parents as they begin returning to work. Equity is apparently no longer important, either.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) declared a national state of emergency in children’s mental health, caused by the isolation and disruption of the lockdowns. They cited “dramatic increases in emergency department visits for all mental health emergencies.” And, according to the CDC, hospitalizations for suspected suicide attempts in 12-17-year-old girls has risen by 51% since early 2019. Behavior problems are on the rise as well—but, mental health and safety are no longer important to some.

Across the board, the medical consensus is clear: Severe COVID is extremely rare in children. For most of them, the virus is akin to a cold or a flu. In fact, according to the AAP, 0.00%-0.02% of all child COVID-19 cases have resulted in death. Even children are more likely to die from heart disease than COVID. What’s more, up to 40% of COVID hospitalization cases in children are not related to COVID. This means that the already-low case numbers we’re seeing in children are almost doubled because of kids coming in as a result of something else and have COVID detected as a secondary condition. Medical professionals, including even Dr. Fauci, agree that schools should be reopened as the spread is limited, and not severe, for students. But, perhaps, to some, science is no longer important.

There is no end in sight to these ever-changing metrics, and it is unconscionable for us to keep our children locked down and out of schools, putting their mental health, emotional development, and physical well-being at risk without scientific rationale. I condemn the reckless behavior of public officials, including Governor Inslee, who have doubled down on keeping our children locked up, isolated, and hurting. That is why I support legislation designed to help our children and parents cope with these burdensome restrictions and provide them with increased options for their children’s education.

One piece of legislation promotes school choice and would allow families to access Opportunity Grants to cover private school tuition or homeschooling expenses if their current school requires them to wear masks while in the classroom. We simply do not know the depths of adverse effects of long-term mask wearing forced on young students and every parent deserves the right to choose how to best support their child’s learning. The Parents Bill of Rights Act would put practices in place that facilitate meaningful dialog between a family and their child’s school and lead to more parental input throughout the learning process. It amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to ensure that federally-funded schools provide parents with the transparency to which they are entitled.

These bills will ensure that parents are able to provide quality educational options for their children in a way that respects both the families and the school choices they may make. It’s clear that equipping families to make their own choices is the only way forward.

A return to normalcy for our students is now well more than a year overdue, but my commitment to the students and parents in Central Washington has not abated in the slightest. I am, and will continue to fight for your rights, your health, and your children’s education.

Congressman Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside serves the 4th Congressional District in Washington, D.C

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