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Senator Murray leads hearing with Secretaries Cardona and Becerra on supporting K-12 students, educators, and families during COVID-19

WATCH VIDEO OF SENATOR MURRAY’S OPENING REMARKS HERE

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Chair Patty Murray (D-WA), led a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on supporting K-12 students, educators, and families during COVID-19 and keeping students in the classroom safely. During the hearing, which included testimony from Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, Senator Murray stressed that we need to do everything we can to keep students safe and learning, including by promoting masking and vaccinations, increasing testing capacity, and ensuring that schools and districts have the guidance and support they need.

In her opening remarks, Senator Murray highlighted how Democrats have worked non-stop to get students back in the classroom safely—including by providing critical resources through the American Rescue Plan and other relief bills—that have helped schools and districts across the country keep their students safe, accelerate their learning, and address students’ social, emotional and mental health needs.

“My goal, since the start of the pandemic, has been to get students back in the classroom safely for in-person learning—and I know that has been shared by members of this Committee on both sides of the aisle,” said Senator Murray in her opening remarks. “And while no one thinks our work is done—we have fought to make our goal a reality by working to get relief straight to schools over multiple relief bills in 2020 and, critically, in the American Rescue Plan last March.”

But Senator Murray noted that while most students are back in the classrooms, many challenges and disruptions persist—and the Delta variant continues to pose a threat to students’ and educators’ health. These challenges have only been made worse by extreme Republicans’ efforts to politicize masks and vaccines, and prevent school districts from taking common-sense steps to keep students safe.

“Unfortunately, in too many parts of our country, the basic steps that could keep students, educators, and communities safe have been politicized. So much so that instead of promoting basic steps like wearing masks in schools, some Republican governors and state legislators have been trying to outlaw them,” said Senator Murray. “Schools have been pushed to the brink by a pandemic, but instead of giving them help, these Republican governors and state leaders are threatening school funding, banning mask requirements, and undermining efforts to get people vaccinated. They’re not only ignoring—in some cases denying—the fact that we’re in a pandemic. They are making denial a badge of honor. Let’s be clear: there is nothing honorable about putting kids, educators, and their families at risk to score political points.”

Senator Murray also emphasized that in order to keep students in the classroom safely and recover from this pandemic, the Biden Administration must continue to build on the progress we’ve made so far in promoting vaccinations for all who are eligible, increasing testing capacity, and ensuring that schools and districts have support needed to help students get back on track. She also noted the critical work ahead to address students’ mental health issues, a sharp drop in school enrollment, the fact that students’ learning has been set back significantly, and the need to tackle long-standing inequities and systemic racism in our education system.

“Our work won’t end when this pandemic does. We will all have to work together to repair the damage COVID-19 has done, address students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs, and help schools build back stronger and fairer,” said Senator Murray.

Senator Murray’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

“This pandemic has been incredibly hard on students, families, and educators.

“For over a year, many students weren’t able to see their teachers, friends, counselors, or coaches.

“Students with disabilities couldn’t get the support they needed.

“Many students from families with low incomes couldn’t get nutritious school meals.

“And students without internet at home were left struggling to keep up with the shift to remote learning.

“Every student’s learning was disrupted in some way, and educators and school leaders found themselves trying to meet students’ needs through a screen, making their already challenging jobs even tougher.

“I heard from so many families in Washington state about these challenges, and how devastating this crisis has been.

“My goal, since the start of the pandemic, has been to get students back in the classroom safely for in-person learning—and I know that has been shared by members of this Committee on both sides of the aisle.

“And while no one thinks our work is done—we have fought to make our goal a reality by working to get relief straight to schools over multiple relief bills in 2020 and, critically, in the American Rescue Plan last March.

“This funding has allowed schools to take steps to keep their students safe—like providing masks, tests, and improved ventilation, to keep students connected—like making sure they have access to technology and the internet, to accelerate their learning—like offering summer learning and high quality tutoring, and to help them navigate this incredibly tough time—like increasing mental health resources.

“And now, according to the CDC, 96 percent of K-12 public schools are offering full in-person learning.

“But, as the Delta variant has shown us, this pandemic is far from over.

“We saw nearly a million new COVID cases among kids over the past four weeks.

“Pediatric hospitals across the country are running out of beds.

“And according to CDC, we’ve seen over 1,800 school closures this school year related to COVID outbreaks. Meaning children had their learning once again interrupted, and parents had their work plans upended as they needed to take care of their kids.

“Families are exhausted. Everyone wants to get back to the classroom, and stay there.

“But to get there, we have to continue working to keep students safe.

“And look, we have more than a year’s worth of data. Public health experts, like those at the CDC and in state and local health departments, have made clear what works…

“Masks.

“Ventilation.

“Physical distancing.

“Testing.

“Getting everyone vaccinated who is eligible—which is especially important to protect children under 12 who can’t get vaccinated yet.

“Finally, flexibility—in other words, ensuring school districts have plans to provide high-quality distance learning to all students when necessary to keep them safe.

“The work the Biden Administration has done to promote common-sense public health measures is so important.

“It’s been a real relief to have leaders in charge who set an example that public health and safety shouldn’t be partisan, it should be part of what you do to protect yourself and others.

“And I wish every elected official took the same approach.

“Unfortunately, in too many parts of our country, the basic steps that could keep students, educators, and communities safe have been politicized.

“So much so that instead of promoting basic steps like wearing masks in schools, some Republican governors and state legislators have been trying to outlaw them.

“Schools have been pushed to the brink by a pandemic, but instead of giving them help, these Republican governors and state leaders are threatening school funding, banning mask requirements, and undermining efforts to get people vaccinated.

“They’re not only ignoring—in some cases denying—the fact that we’re in a pandemic. They are making denial a badge of honor.

“Let’s be clear: there is nothing honorable about putting kids, educators, and their families at risk to score political points.

“And the risk is real. New data from CDC confirms schools without mask requirements are three and a half times more likely to have a COVID outbreak, while COVID case rates in school districts with mask requirements are half that of those without them.

“For anyone truly concerned about public health and safety, there should be no question about putting that real-world data into practice.

“Because this isn’t a game to the school leaders who are being threatened and harassed for doing the right thing.

“It isn’t a game to students, who want to be able to go to school without contracting a deadly disease that could hurt them, a family member who is immunocompromised, or a sibling who is too young to get vaccinated. 

“And it isn’t a game to parents who want to be able to put their kids on the school bus without worrying they’re putting their child at risk. 

“They are counting on policymakers to take this pandemic seriously.

“Now, looking down the dais, I know there are a lot of perspectives on COVID-19 represented here.

“But I hope all of us can help send a message that the basic public health measures we need to keep kids safe and learning in school shouldn’t be political, they should be American.

“Because we still have a lot of work ahead to get our schools and students through this pandemic and we have to do it together.

“Everyone eligible who hasn’t gotten vaccinated should get their shots.

“States and localities need to keep following the science and doing what works to keep kids safe and learning in school.

“The Biden Administration needs to continue to build on the progress we’ve made so far to promote vaccinations, increase testing capacity, and ensure schools and districts have the guidance and support they need to spend these funds.

“And our work won’t end when this pandemic does. We will all have to work together to repair the damage COVID-19 has done, address students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs, and help schools build back stronger and fairer.

“That means addressing the sharp drop in enrollment this pandemic has caused, the sharp rise in mental health issues among kids, and the fact COVID has set many students’ learning back significantly—particularly students whose families earn low incomes, students of color, English learners, and students with disabilities.

“It also means addressing the inequities and systemic racism that have long plagued our education system, and have made this pandemic so much harder on so many students.

“I look forward to  hearing from both of our witnesses on these challenges, and working with them, and with President Biden, to help students, parents, educators, and schools across the country through this crisis.

“Now I’ll turn it over to Ranking Member Burr for his opening remarks.”

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