House GOP Accuses Biden of Rejecting Scientific Consensus on School Reopenings

'Our children are suffering, and it is time to allow them to resume their education'

Schoolchildren wearing masks / Getty Images
February 11, 2021

A group of 66 House Republicans accused President Joe Biden of rejecting the scientific consensus that schools can safely reopen, a move they say harms American children.

Led by Rep. Jason Smith (R., Mo.), the lawmakers sent Biden a Thursday letter urging him to "follow the science" by pushing state and local leaders across the U.S. to reopen schools. The letter notes that there is "little evidence to show in-person instruction in classrooms contributes to the spread of COVID-19," citing a January study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It also criticizes the Biden administration for contradicting top government scientists. After CDC director Rochelle Walensky said there are "increasing data to suggest that schools can reopen," White House press secretary Jen Psaki dismissed the comment, claiming Walensky "spoke in her personal capacity."

"Despite [Walensky's] expert opinion, your White House continues to ignore the science," the letter reads. "Our children are suffering, and it is time to allow them to resume their education with in-person instruction."

The plea comes just hours after the White House clarified its promise to reopen schools within Biden's first 100 days in office, with Psaki stating Tuesday that Biden's goal is for a majority of schools to offer "some" in-person teaching "at least one day a week." Both House and Senate Republicans quickly criticized the walk-back, the latest example of the GOP's push to place the school reopening fight at the center of the 2022 midterm elections.

"The Biden Administration once again demonstrated that they have no intention of fulfilling the President's promise to students and families," Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) said in a statement. "Having 50 percent of schools offering in-person instruction one day a week is not what millions of parents and students across the nation think of as schools reopening."

Biden pledged to reopen schools throughout his presidential campaign despite receiving more than $232,000 in direct contributions from teachers' unions, which have led the charge to delay in-person instruction. Top unions such as the American Federation of Teachers also gave millions to liberal super PACs backing Biden, and AFT president Randi Weingarten recently called on Washington, D.C., to wholly close schools that detect even a single COVID case.

Biden's pick for deputy secretary of education, Cindy Marten, has also vocally opposed school reopenings. Marten recently delayed in-person instruction for her San Diego school district indefinitely after planning to reopen on January 13.

Rep. Smith told the Washington Free Beacon that Biden's soft stance on in-person learning reflects his need to appease powerful special-interest groups.

"President Biden should listen to the scientists and put the needs of American families over the needs of special interests," he said. "But as we have seen, he is more focused on appeasing his liberal allies than supporting kids in school."

The White House did not return a request for comment.

Some House Republicans have attempted to spur in-person learning by tying it to federal funding for K-12 public schools. A Tuesday amendment from Rep. Greg Murphy (R., N.C.), for example, would have required schools receiving funds through Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill to offer in-person instruction "at each of the public elementary and secondary schools under the jurisdiction of the local education agency." House Democrats rejected the amendment.