I want to thank teachers, school faculty and staff in the 2nd Congressional District for the work you have done to ensure students are still learning during the COVID-19 public health emergency and also doing everything possible to provide in-person instruction for students.

All over the national news and when I’m in Washington, I’m disappointed to hear about politics getting in the middle of opening schools. As a longtime resident of Bowling Green and a parent of three graduates of Greenwood High School, I know educators in Bowling Green and Warren County have been doing all that they can to keep their doors open.

I recently spoke with Rob Clayton, superintendent of Warren County Public Schools, and Gary Fields, superintendent of the Bowling Green Independent School District. Neither school system has seen significant community transmission from opening schools to in-person learning since August, and no information suggests that there has been student-to-student transfer of the virus. I want to thank them both for finding solutions to safely keep schools open.

I also want to give special thanks to all in Bowling Green, Warren County and across the 2nd District who have worked hard to make some type of in-person learning possible during these unprecedented times. In order for this to happen, it takes teachers who are willing to teach, principals working hard to implement COVID-19 safety protocols and superintendents who are willing to lead. It also takes support staff, custodial staff, administrative staff and bus drivers risking their health to put students first. It also requires cafeteria workers and many others, who since the beginning of this pandemic have continued to ensure students have meals, and they deserve so much praise.

I know several people who would like to be in-person but have or live with someone with a health issue that is considered high-risk for COVID-19. I’m glad teachers were prioritized to get the COVID-19 vaccine so that all teachers can return to the classroom to do the job they love in-person.

We know virtual learning is not a perfect substitute to in-person learning. Students do not have the same hands-on learning experience, interaction with teachers and fellow students, or involvement in extracurricular activities that build confidence and leadership skills. Additionally, there are students who do not have broadband internet, which prevents them from learning virtually. Closing the digital divide is one of my main priorities in Congress as a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Federal Communications Commission.

We know that closing schools has taken a toll on the mental health of students and that science suggests that we can reopen schools safely. Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, who I have worked with through my leadership role on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said last summer that it’s “a greater public health threat” to keep schools closed for our students.

Current CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, who President Joe Biden appointed, has said, “There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen.” CDC researchers in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) have written “ … there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.” With the goal of reopening schools, I’m proud to have voted for nearly $70 billion directed solely toward K-12 schools to obtain resources to help during these unprecedented times.

As we all know, COVID-19 is a real public health threat. With schools, just like everything else operating during COVID-19, we need to be constantly reevaluating and learning how to best serve students. I commend Rob and Gary and all educators in the 2nd District, despite the risk of COVID-19 and political pressure to stay closed, for giving their best to give students the opportunity to learn in-person while simultaneously keeping virtual learning as an option.

We may never be able to quantify the positive impact on students, but I’m glad school districts in Bowling Green, Warren County and other areas in the 2nd District have been giving students the opportunity to successfully learn in-person. I take great pride in telling my colleagues that my hometown schools have been open since Aug. 24. Our educators are special and should be looked at as an example for the rest of the country on how to prioritize in-person learning for students.

– U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie represents Kentucky’s 2nd Congressional District.