White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday defended the Biden administration’s definition of reopening schools amid the CCP virus pandemic, following criticism that resuming “some teaching” in person for “at least one day a week” in 50 percent of the nation’s schools is not setting the bar high enough.
Psaki was pressed during her daily press briefing on why the Biden administration hadn’t set a more ambitious goal, after Biden in December vowed to ensure “a majority of our schools” are open within 100 days of his presidency.
“Well, certainly we are not planning to celebrate at 100 days if we reach that goal,”she said. “That is our own effort to set our own markings, set an emboldened ambitious agenda for how we’re going to measure ourselves and progress. But we certainly hope to build from that even at 100 days.
“And from there, our objective, the president’s objective, is for all schools to reopen, to stay open, to be open five days a week for kids to be learning,” Psaki added. “That’s what our focus is on. This is simply a goal for 100 days.”
A day earlier, the White House Press secretary said all schools won’t necessarily fully reopen by day 100 of Biden’s presidency.
“His goal that he set is to have the majority of schools—so, more than 50 percent—open by day 100 of his presidency. And that means some teaching in classrooms. So, at least one day a week,” she said on Tuesday. “Hopefully, it’s more. And obviously, it is as much as is safe in each school and local district.”
Psaki noted that the Biden administration is waiting for official guidance on school reopenings to be released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency’s director said on Feb. 5 that guidelines will be released in the coming week.
“Our focus really, at this point in time, is waiting for the CDC guidelines to come out and give schools across the country, school districts across the country the first medical and scientific recommendations and guidelines that have been given from the federal level,” Psaki said.
She added, “And obviously, once those are put out publicly and concluded, we will look for ways to work with states to ensure that schools are getting the resources they need.”
When reporters pointed out that a lot of schools are already open for in person learning one day a week, Psaki said the figure is a “bar of where we’d like the majority of schools across the country to be.”
“They’re not at this point in time, and we want to build from there. And it really depends; it differs from school district to school district,” she responded.
Officials have recently said Congress must pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief plan, which includes $130 billion “to support schools in safely reopening,” in order for more schools to reopen.
Research both inside and outside the United States shows “little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission,” the officials said.
One argument against school reopening is the spread of new mutations of the virus, for example, the CCP virus strain that was first identified in the United Kingdom in December. Initial data indicate that this more-transmissible strain is also more virulent or potentially harmful but “that needs to be confirmed,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), during a Feb. 8 briefing.
Peter Svab contributed to this report.