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I have two six-year-old boys. They want to go back to school, and my wife and I want them to go back, too. However, reopening our schools must be done in a manner that is going to ensure the safety of the students, teachers, administration and everyone who works at schools. The Orange County Board of Education’s (OCBOE) 4-1 vote to approve recommendations for schools to reopen in the fall, without requiring the use of face masks or social distancing, is disappointing and irresponsible.

The President has called for the reopening of schools across the county and even threatened to cut funding for those that don’t. Rather than putting the health and safety of our students first, the OCBOE has decided to fall right in line with the President and politicize the pandemic. While they’re quick to stress that their recommendations are not binding, it sends a confusing message to our community during a time when we need certainty.

Rather than choose to lead on this issue and put health and safety at the forefront, the OCBOE has made half-measured recommendations that don’t even follow CDC guidelines the state education department, and the County Superintendent. While OCBOE is encouraging temperature checks, people to stay home if they’re sick, and safe hygiene, this is not enough.

As a father, I understand the anxiety parents feel of how to keep our children both happy and safe. As great of a job as my wife has done to teach our boys these past couple months, the optimized environment for learning would be at school. That being said, the health and safety of our public must be our top priority. As gyms, restaurants, churches, and so many other places close because of rising COVID-19 cases in Orange County and across the state, we should not reopen our schools without a comprehensive safety plan

As a Member of Congress and education advocate, I’ve been fighting for more funding for local schools, because I know our teachers and staff will continue to work tirelessly to educate our kids. I’ve also been speaking with education and health experts across the 39th district and California on how to reopen our schools safely. The California School Board Association, California Federation of Teachers, and California State PTA are working diligently to put forward recommendations to help our schools get this right. 

Yet, OCBOE’s recommendations fall short of prioritizing health and safety. I agree with the Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) statement cited in OCBOE’s recommendations, “Policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within schools must be balanced with the known harms to children, adolescents, families, and the community by keeping children at home.” Not included in the Board’s recommendation, AAP also states “evidence continues to mount on the importance of universal face coverings in interrupting the spread of SARS-CoV-2.” A blanket “no mask” guideline from the OCBOE is not balanced policy.

Let me be clear, I’m not against reopening schools. I’m against reopening without a comprehensive plan that both reassures parents and helps school leaders limit the spread of the coronavirus. Not when there is still so much we don’t know about the coronavirus, and certainly not when we are seeing COVID-19 cases surging in our region. Children may be less susceptible to contracting the disease, but it doesn’t mean they can’t spread it to their parents or other family members who are at higher risk of infection. Not to mention teachers and school staff who may be at high risk or have family members who are, too. These unknown variables demand that we take the necessary precautions to keep everyone safe.

I understand that new safety measures come with a huge cost for schools. It’s why I’ve been advocating for more school funding and voted for the Heroes Act, which includes $10.7 billion for California school districts. However, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to take action on our legislation for two months. I’ll continue to call on the Senate to act and fight to ensure our students, teachers, and staff have the PPE, access to broadband, and resources they need.

As a Member of Congress, I continue to stand ready to work with our local school leaders to prioritize health and safety as part of school reopening plans. As a parent, I strongly encourage the Orange County Board of Education to rethink their recommendations and put the health and safety of students, teachers, administrators, faculty, and the community over politics.

Congressman Gil Cisneros represents California’s 39th Congressional District.

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