Let science, not politics, guide schools decision

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Julie Oliver

By Julie Oliver

U.S. Congressional candidate

As a candidate, a parent, and the daughter of a public school teacher, I know firsthand that this “back-to-school” debate is not only critical, it’s personal and far-reaching. These are unprecedented and uncertain times for our families, teachers, and administrators.

A recent, high-quality, professional scientific study of 65,000 people in South Korea found that children between the ages of 10 and 19 spread the virus at least as well as adults do. That makes the choice facing school districts and parents even more daunting.

The truth is there are no perfect or easy answers — not for the the working parents struggling to keep their jobs while juggling distance learning; not for the kids struggling with isolation and remote learning; not for teachers, administrators, or staff concerned about their health and the health of their own families.

But a few things are perfectly clear. We should ensure that Texas parents, teachers, and school administrators are heard and supported throughout this process. We should be innovative and bold, while keeping our communities healthy and safe. And we have to remember this: we deserve better than dangerous ultimatums from the Trump Administration and empty party-lines from TX-25 incumbent Rep. Williams.

One long overdue lesson that we should all learn from this crisis is that teachers are essential workers and schools are essential spaces. They nurture and educate our children, our next generation of leaders. But this pandemic has exposed the other services they provide that are essential to our families, communities, and economy, including food security, transportation, after-school supervision, social-emotional development and more.

Schools and teachers are essential to the daily function of our families and our economy. Yet, before and during this crisis, they rarely get the necessary funding and support. Trump recently threatened to cut off funding for schools if they don’t reopen in the fall. But the absurd and unjust truth is that the federal government provides less than 10 percent of funding for public elementary and secondary schools.

The efforts by teachers and parents to manage remote learning during this pandemic has been nothing less than heroic. My mom was a public school teacher, so I am all too familiar with teachers who go above and beyond for their students — from sacrificing their own paycheck to buy school supplies to driving across their school district to check-in personally with isolated students. Our teachers deserve better than threats to further defund our public schools and weak plans that put everyone at risk unnecessarily.

I know so many parents who are struggling to juggle work, childcare, and remote schooling. As a parent myself, I worry about the effect of extended quarantine on my daughter. We all want our kids to be able to get back to school safely. But going on TV, spouting the party line, and saying “open the schools” without a plan, as my opponent Rep. Williams has done, will not cut it. Our parents, students, and teachers deserve more.

First and foremost, we must ensure that this reopening process is guided by experts and science, not politics and partisanship. Next:

• Folks on the front lines of this issue in Texas, including parents, teachers, and administrators must be consulted.

• We must commit to closing the gaps in Internet access for rural and low-income communities, as thousands of students across TX-25 lack the reliable broadband needed for distance learning.

• We must ensure that schools have the equipment and supplies they need to be safe.

• We should reduce the number of new cases in a county for at least 14 consecutive days as a prerequisite to local school districts’ reopening.

• We should maintain physical distancing until the number of new cases declines for at least 14 consecutive days.

• And we absolutely have to get federal money to our school districts for the infrastructure to test, trace and isolate new cases.

These are just a few concrete steps we can consider instead of just simply “reopening” schools as Rep. Williams suggested.

Here’s the truth: We’re in a crisis and those who have spent years defunding critical government infrastructure have no plan to get us out of it. Other countries have been able to reopen schools and businesses because they have maintained meaningful public investment in their healthcare infrastructure, something the United States and especially Texas lack.

In order to reopen schools, we must let experts, including teachers and parents, and science guide us. We can’t be reckless about this. Too many lives are at stake. Our parents, teachers, and children deserve better.

Julie Oliver is the Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress for the 25th Congressional District and will face incumbent U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, in the November general election.