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In a rare acknowledgment, The New York Times published an analysis this week conceding a fundamental point often championed by conservatives: the detrimental impact of prolonged school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly on children’s education. The report underscores a growing consensus among public health and education experts that extended closures did little to effectively curb the spread of the virus while inflicting significant and enduring academic harm on students.

The analysis highlights the damaging effects of remote learning on children’s learning abilities, irrespective of their socioeconomic backgrounds. Drawing from analyses conducted by prestigious institutions such as Harvard and Stanford, as well as a comprehensive study encompassing 10,000 schools, the report reveals a compelling correlation between remote learning and declines in students’ test scores at both state and local levels.

Despite efforts by Democrats to justify their approach to education during the pandemic as rooted in safety concerns, experts cited in the report suggest that school closures yielded minimal benefits in terms of virus containment. The Times’ analysis underscores the complexity of the decisions faced by policymakers, acknowledging the absence of easy solutions amidst the uncertainty and evolving nature of the crisis.

Furthermore, the report highlights the enduring consequences of pandemic-induced learning disruptions, as evidenced by the most recent test scores from spring 2023. These scores reveal that students, on the whole, have yet to fully recover from the academic setbacks experienced during the height of the pandemic, with students in districts that maintained remote or hybrid learning models facing significantly larger academic gaps compared to their counterparts in districts that prioritized in-person learning.

Amidst this landscape, Republican leaders like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis emerged as vocal advocates for reopening schools and restoring normalcy to students’ lives. DeSantis’s proactive measures to reopen schools in Florida in the spring of 2020 positioned him at the forefront of efforts to challenge what many conservatives viewed as excessive and unwarranted restrictions hindering children’s access to quality education.