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COVID-19 school closures turn parents into swing voters

School closures related to COVID-19 may have faded from the headlines, but parents who lived through it say candidates had better address the issue if they want their vote this midterm cycle.

Two parents who spoke with Fox News said they saw notable learning loss in their children, and no one in leadership — from the federal to local level — seemed to care.

“I’m a scientist, I study infectious diseases, I analyze data,” said Dr. Margery Smelkinson, an infectious disease scientist and mom of four school-aged kids. “And even as early as spring of 2020, if you looked at other countries that opened their schools, they were fine. They weren’t these like crazy viral hotspots and like everyone feared. And so, I thought that was really encouraging. I was hoping this would drive our schools to open in 2020, in the fall of 2020. But here they didn’t.”

Smelkinson said she wrote letters and op-eds, and testified in front of her local school board in Montgomery County, Maryland, but nothing changed. As a scientist, she said she assumed the data would drive the decision, but said she felt the response was more political.

“They didn’t care about the science,” said Smelkinson. “It was more about the teachers’ unions demands, unrealistic views of the risks, unrealistic demands to remain closed. And that’s what was driving it. And kids were thrown under the bus. Education was deprioritized for political donations.”

Montgomery County Public Schools officials said they made their decisions on school closures based on guidance from the Maryland Health Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adding that safety was a top priority.

“Community, student, family and staff safety were paramount in any public health decision whether that was virtual, hybrid or in-person learning and for any virus mitigation measure used, relaxed or discontinued,” said Chris Cram, a spokesman for MCPS, in a statement to Fox News.

NPR EDUCATION REPORTER: REPORTERS WERE ‘TOO TIMID’ DURING COVERAGE OF SCHOOL CLOSINGS 

But when it comes to elected officials, parents said they wanted accountability for the closures.

Dr. Jennifer Reesman, a pediatric neuropsychologist and mom of a middle schooler, said that COVID school closures turned her from a reliable Democrat to a swing voter after she became disappointed in a party she thought was looking out for her and her daughter. Reesman, also a Maryland mom, said she took her daughter with her to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and would put on a Hillary campaign T-shirt whenever she had a bad day to remind her that there was someone out there fighting for her beliefs.

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“I wonder when the politicians that I’ve voted for in the past are going to wake up and are going to recognize that they’ve harmed my child and that my vote isn’t a sure thing,” said Reesman. “I cannot just vote via a party. I need to be an issue-focused voter.”

Reesman added that she would never have identified herself as a swing voter prior to this cycle. She said that this cycle she’s a single-issue voter focused entirely on schools and that she has already been actively talking to candidates in her area.

“I get text messages from local officials, from other organizations saying, this candidate is for so-and-so and whatever issue it is. My response back is, ‘I want to know where your candidate stands on education and open schools. This is all I care about,’” she said.

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Both parents say that candidates who think the memory of COVID school closures has faded need to think again.

“For parents of K-12 children, I think they’re still seeing the effects in their kids,” said Smelkinson. “The headlines might not be saying it, but they can see it firsthand at home that their kids are not performing as well as they should.”

The Smelkinson children engaging in virtual learning.

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Reesman said candidates ignoring the issue are doing so “at their peril.”

“It’s really hard for me to focus on any of their other issues that they’re talking about if they cannot recognize what’s right in my home,” she said.

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