Washington, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Education Committee, questioned Cindy Marten at a hearing to consider her nomination to serve as the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education. Ms. Marten is the superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), a position she has held since 2013. SDUSD is California’s second-largest school district and serves approximately 100,000 students.
Study after study has shown that students’ social isolation over the past year has resulted in harm to their academics, social development, and behavioral and mental health. Senator Collins repeatedly urged the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to follow the science on school reopenings, which showed that three feet of spacing between students, coupled with other precautions such as wearing masks, is effective at preventing outbreaks of COVID-19. During the hearing, Senator Collins noted that in February, a New York Times survey of 175 public health experts—mainly pediatricians—showed broad agreement that it was safe for schools to be open for younger children in particular.
“Last weekend, when I was in Maine, a young mother came up to me and told me that her nine-year-old daughter had started crying every single day. On those days that she was not in the classroom, she cried because she missed her friends. On those two days when she was in the classroom, she cried because she was afraid she would catch COVID-19, despite universal mask wearing in her school. Her mother took her to a counselor who said that in the last week alone, she had seen 10 new clients—10 new young children—with emotional and behavioral problems directly related to the closure of schools,” said Senator Collins.
“In California, the physician who is the Director of COVID Response from the University of California in San Francisco said that with universal masking, school transmissions will remain close to zero,” Senator Collins continued. “In retrospect, do you think you were too slow to open up?”
“We worked with the people who are experts in this [area] to give us our…safe path to reopening. And every decision that we made was rooted in safety being our strategy. As the science was ever evolving and has evolved, we evolved in our implementation and our path forward,” replied Ms. Marten. “I'm happy to say where we are now is being able to open on April 12, with all of the mitigations that we put in place, knowing that things had changed along the way. This is the right time for us to open…”
Ms. Marten also discussed how the CDC’s updated distancing guidelines are helpful for making decisions at the local level. The new guidelines recommend spacing students three feet apart—down from the previous six feet—for in-person learning. Senator Collins had repeatedly called on public health officials to revisit these spacing requirements, including at a hearing with the Director of the CDC last week, in order to help students return to the classroom quickly and safely.
In his opening statement, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), the Ranking Member of the Committee, credited Senator Collins’ role in urging the CDC to update their guidance on school reopenings.
“I'm glad to see that the CDC has finally caught up with the science on school reopening, said Ranking Member Burr. “I can't help but wonder if we all had Susan Collins to thank for that with her very effective line of questionings last week at the COVID hearing.”