Last week, my two kids returned to high school. They sat in an actual classroom and spoke to their teachers and friends, in person. This is something they have done countless times growing up. But for over a year, neither one of them had been inside a classroom. Our school gave families the option to go back, and we discussed it with our kids and said yes.
My family is not alone.
In California, we say trust the data and the science. Both show that it is safe to return to school. As Dr. Grace Lee, professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine, has said, "It's possible to open schools safely -- it's being done."
There are dozens of reports from around the country that support this assertion. Experts at UCSF recently cited CDC studies in Wisconsin and North Carolina that all showed K-12 schools can have in-person learning with limited in-school COVID-19 spread, and no spread is known to have occurred to or from staff.
This has been an incredibly difficult year for teachers. I believe it is important that our teachers feel as safe as possible. That is why I called for prioritizing teachers for the vaccine back in December. Now all teachers and staff in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties have been given the opportunity to receive the vaccine. Most are now fully vaccinated, and all available data shows that once vaccinated you can't transmit the virus.
Evidence also demonstrates that K-12 schools that have implemented prevention strategies have been able to safely open for in-person instruction and remain open. As a result, states such as Florida have been back five days a week since September to some form of in-person learning without major outbreaks of COVID-19.
We can do the same here in California. We have the benefit of incorporating the proven best practices from around the country, and we have extensive resources to do so, along with a much lower community transmission rate. Due to our temperate climate, we can cut down on airborne particles with more ventilation by opening windows and installing MERV filters. Masks work and 3 feet of separation will help keep our schools safe, even without a broadly vaccinated community. The CDC has called for children to return to American classrooms as soon as possible, and with adequate masking, distancing, and ventilation, the benefits of opening schools outweigh the risks of keeping kids at home. To ensure our schools are able to implement such measures, I voted for an additional $6.6 billion in funding for school safety.
The past year has been unimaginably difficult for all of us. We have all suffered in different ways. For many students and parents, this suffering has been particularly acute. I have seen firsthand the mental and emotional toll this takes as I have watched my own kids struggle with distance learning and isolation. The negative consequences and loss of learning are significant, and the long-term impact is unclear.
This is why it's imperative that we return, as much as science allows, to normal in the fall with school five days a week with full instructional minutes.
Now that we see that bright light at the end of the tunnel, and we have the science and data to prove it, it is time to reopen our schools, while allowing for flexibility for those with risk factors as we have always done. For the majority of children in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, it is reasonable, responsible and delightful to allow them to pack a lunch, strap on their backpacks and head back to the wonderful schools our community is fortunate to have.
Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park) represents California's 13th Senate district in the state Legislature.