WILLIS: Send our kids back to school

FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020 file photo, an American flag hangs in a classroom as students work on laptops in an Elementary School. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

As we approach the one-year anniversary of closing down our schools, one thing has become very clear: 

Our students need to be back in the classroom. 

We can’t afford to let our children suffer any further. In the early days of the pandemic, we were asked to change our daily lives. Nearly every sector of society had to adapt to a “new normal” while we implemented social distancing, increased cleaning regimens and learned more about this new virus. 

Almost a year later, we have a much better understanding of COVID-19 and how it spreads. Several studies from highly respected institutions have shown that transmission risk in schools is relatively low compared to transmission in the community. The General Assembly has appropriated billions in federal money to implement safety standards recommended by the CDC. Teachers and school staff will be eligible for vaccinations starting Feb. 25. Legislative leaders, virus experts and federal officials are all in agreement: our students need to be back in the classroom.

Teachers have done everything they could to effectively teach in a virtual environment. Marathon Zoom sessions, unreliable software, weak internet connections and disrupted lesson plans have been a huge frustration for teachers, parents and students alike. 

Senate Bill 37 has been filed to give every family the option to send their kids back to the classroom for in-person instruction.

Personally, my wife and I have gone through these struggles with our children over the last year — it’s been tough. Parents have had to stay home with their kids instead of working, children have been asked to learn in an unfamiliar environment with countless distractions, and teachers have had to find ways to connect with their students through a computer screen. I commend all who have put in long hours to make it work. We all did what we had to do to keep our children moving forward. Now, it’s time for us to reopen our schools. It’s time to begin the journey of helping our children heal emotionally, physically and academically.  

Your General Assembly is working hard to reopen North Carolina schools. Senate Bill 37 has been filed to give every family the option to send their kids back to the classroom for in-person instruction. The bill has received bipartisan support and will soon be sent to the governor for final approval. In the coming months, further action will need to be taken to catch our students up to where they need to be academically. Many students have fallen behind during this difficult period — we need to extend a hand to bring them back up. Our children’s development and their futures are too important to delay any longer. Today’s students will be tomorrow’s leaders and tomorrow’s workforce. The consequences of inaction in this moment will last decades into the future — long after this pandemic has ended. 

Rep. David Willis is a state House member representing Union County and House District 68 in the North Carolina General Assembly.