Members of Congress and other officials need to “move fast” to reopen schools, President Joe Biden said on Feb. 12.
In a statement after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released official reopening guidance, Biden said his goal of reopening most K–8 schools by the end of his first 100 days in office can only be done if Congress approves his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.
The CDC’s guidelines “tell us that our schools are safer when we have appropriate distancing in classrooms and on school buses, when masks are worn consistently and properly, when handwashing occurs regularly, and when we are able to effectively respond to cases through testing and contact tracing, and when we follow other recommended steps,” he said.
But to meet the guidelines, some schools will need more teachers, more buses, and more protective equipment, Biden said.
“These needs cost money. But the cost of keeping our children, families, and educators safe is nothing when compared with the cost of inaction,” he said, before calling on Congress to act immediately to pass his proposal. “Today, an entire generation of young people is on the brink of being set back up to a year or more in their learning. We are already seeing rising mental health concerns due in part to isolation. Educational disparities that have always existed grow wider each day that our schools remain closed and remote learning isn’t the same for every student.”
The president also said he’d task the secretary of education, when he’s confirmed, with working on accelerating school reopenings, and urged states to prioritize teachers for COVID-19 vaccinations, even as the CDC has said reopenings could be done without teachers being injected.
The CDC said in its guidance that schools can reopen safely if proper precautions are taken amid the pandemic, noting that research suggests many schools have already resumed in-person learning without a large corresponding increase in COVID-19 cases in their areas.
“The science shows us that K-to-12 schools that have implemented strict mitigation strategies have been able to safely open for in-person instruction, and remain open,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters in a call.
“We, also, know that some schools are, already, providing in-person instruction, and we want them to be able to continue to do this. But we know that some are not following the recommended mitigation strategies we know to work. For these schools, we are not mandating that they close. Rather, we are providing these recommendations and highlighting the science behind them to help schools create an environment that is safe for students, teachers, and staff.”
The guidance follows months of battles over school closures playing out in multiple states, with teachers unions in some locales resisting a return to physical instruction over concerns about COVID-19.
After weeks of negotiations, Chicago’s union and officials this week reached an agreement on returning to classrooms, while San Francisco’s attorney, backed by its mayor, asked a judge to force the district to reopen schools.