Wear the damn masks. We need more damn vaccines.
While leading my state through the COVID-19 crisis, I've sometimes had to utter more colorful language than I would typically be comfortable using in public. But I've felt it was necessary to get my point across.
Leadership is about far more than the nuts and bolts of policy-making. It's also about communicating clearly, honestly, and with genuine empathy. Perhaps nowhere has this been more clear than the battle to get our schools opened safely.
Last August, the state of Maryland authorized every county school district to open for in-person instruction after submitting detailed plans for safe and hybrid learning. However, many counties – under pressure from the teachers unions – chose not to follow state guidelines.
This went beyond just keeping local public schools closed. Threatened by declining enrollments as parents frantically pulled their children out of public schools, Montgomery County ordered nonpublic schools to shut down as well. They did so without even allowing these schools to present their safe reopening plans that took months of planning and extensive research to develop.
Within days of this power grab, I issued an emergency executive order prohibiting private and parochial schools' blanket closures.
In the months since the summer, evidence that the costs of keeping students out of school far exceed any potential risk of reopening safety has become incontrovertible. The science is clear; when schools adopt the necessary precautions, they are not a significant source of community spread. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all agree our schools can reopen safely.
Meanwhile, the toll of the learning loss and rising depression rates from closed schools has been devastating, especially for underserved and minority communities. But despite the overwhelming evidence, many schools remained closed for months.
In January, I took this message directly to the people of Maryland. I held a press conference to say enough is enough. I called on every county school system to reopen by March 1.
Though I acknowledged the constraints on my legal authority to order them open, I pledged to do everything in my power and use every tool at my disposal to make sure that would happen. Unsurprisingly, teachers union leaders denounced my comments as "dangerous" and "bullying."
Yet, within hours, three large county school systems – Baltimore, Harford and Howard – announced that they would comply with the March 1 deadline and others soon followed. Today, 22 out of the 24 county school systems in Maryland have students back in the classrooms, while the remaining two have also outlined plans to resume in-person instruction.
While we're continuing to fight to make sure every child has the opportunity to get back into the classroom, it's clear that utilizing the bully pulpit has been critical in moving the ball forward.
Even as we've provided more than $1 billion to upgrade school buildings, sent one million COVID-19 test kits to school districts and moved teachers to the front of the line for vaccinations, it took a clear and aggressive public stance to force action. When special interests dominate, leaders must represent the voices of the people.
Unfortunately, the messaging from the federal government has been haphazard and downright unhelpful for this cause.
Over the summer, President Trump repeatedly attacked governors for following his own CDC guidelines on school reopenings. His confusing and inconsistent communication undermined any trust in the process and made it more difficult to convince schools it was safe to reopen.
I was encouraged by President Biden's initial pledge to reopen schools within his first 100 days in office. Unfortunately, the Biden White House's communication on this issue hasn't been much better than the last administration. On everything from hybrid schedules to how high schools are impacted to teacher vaccinations, it's been hard to find any consistent answers.
Making matters worse, the Biden administration has consistently undermined their own CDC by revising science-based guidelines to conform to union insiders' demands. I believe President Biden is genuine in his stated goal of wanting kids back in school, but it often appears his administration is working against him.
I understand that they may be reluctant to undermine a key Democratic constituency. I know what it's like to take heat from powerful interests. It's not easy, but we can't afford any sacred cows at this moment.
This isn't just another partisan issue. Every day kids are out of school for political reasons is a crisis with unthinkable costs that may span generations. Now is the time for leaders to put politics aside and tell the hard truths, especially to our friends.
That's the only way not just to get our kids safely back in the classroom but also to show that we are genuinely all in this together.
Mr. President, send the message loud and clear: Open the damn schools.