The last two years have tested us all. No part of American life has been left untouched or unchanged by this pandemic, forcing us to adapt and assimilate to a “new normal.”
We’ve learned how to stay safe and healthy, using the information and science available to us to make the best decisions for ourselves and our families. In Florida, we’ve been fortunate to forge ahead and resume our lives, even setting an example for other states.
During the pandemic, children across the country were relegated to virtual classrooms, forcing them to miss out on some of the most important, formative years for their development. Time in the classroom with other children and teachers helps children become well adjusted, competent, productive members of their school communities. With school closures, however, we’ve risked severe damage to an entire generation of American students — millions of children — to an online format that does nothing for a child’s learning, behavior or wellbeing.
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While students across the country have been kept out of their classrooms, made to learn from home and socially distance from their peers, their mental and emotional health and social competency have greatly decreased. The effects of virtual learning can be felt especially by low-income students who don’t always have access to the tools, technology and resources necessary to succeed in a virtual format. With parents who don’t have the luxury of working from home, the playing field is certainly not equal.
Additionally, studies show us that children 18 and younger are less likely to contract COVID-19 and are far less likely to become seriously ill if infected. To know that second graders across this country have never truly known what school before the pandemic was like — having spent their first three years in school learning from home behind a computer screen — should break our hearts and push us to do something.
Over the last year, I have been appalled by the disservice being done to our kids by teachers’ unions, liberal governors and overly political school boards, who have sought to keep children out of the classroom in defiance of the evidence and science about their health and safety.
Here in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has worked to ensure that every child in the Sunshine State can attend in-person classes and receive hands-on instruction from educators with health and safety as the priority. This has made an enormous difference in the lives of students, and our state leads the pack when it comes to students’ on-track learning by grade level. Students in other states, however, are not so lucky.
To this end, I recently introduced H.R. 6413, the Keep Kids in Schools Act of 2022, a bill to ensure that unused COVID-19 relief funds, which were appropriated by Congress for the funding of elementary and secondary educational facilities, are not given to those school districts that voluntarily elect to not offer full-time, in-person instruction. Sen. Marco Rubio introduced companion legislation in the Senate, and we’re working hard to earn the support of fellow legislators in this effort.
It is our job as elected officials to advocate on behalf of the future of our country: our children. We must do a better job of providing quality, safe learning environments for students of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, and that starts with in-person learning with the dedicated educators that make classrooms such special places to grow.
U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Gainesville, represents Florida’s Third Congressional District. The youngest Republican woman in the 117th Congress, she serves on the House Agriculture and Homeland Security Committees, and the Select Committee on the Economy.
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This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Kat Cammack: Our kids belong in the classroom, not learning from home