White House Defends Prioritizing Unaccompanied Minors for In-Person Learning

March 31, 2021 Updated: March 31, 2021

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday defended sending San Diego’s public school teachers to teach unaccompanied minors in person, while American students in the California city still entirely rely on remote learning.

Psaki was questioned during a White House press briefing whether she think it’s fair that children who entered the United States illegally are being provided with in-person instruction at the San Diego Convention Center, while some 130,000 American children within the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) remain blocked from classrooms.

“I’m just saying that context is important,” Psaki replied, adding that SDUSD is planning to offer a combination of in-person and remote learning starting from April 12.

“We of course want that to be five days a week, and we’re confident we’ll get there early next month,” she said.

Psaki then emphasized that the unaccompanied minors are being taught by teachers who “volunteer” to be there during spring break.

“I believe they’re also on spring break right now,” Psaki said. “I’m not sure if it’s volunteer or paid; you’d have to ask the local school district, while the kids are on spring break, which I think the context is pretty important.”

According to a Fox News report that cited an SDUSD spokesperson, teachers had been offered an opportunity to teach in person unaccompanied minors who are being held at the San Diego Convention Center. The spokesperson didn’t say if the teachers would be paid for their teaching.

A spokesperson for the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) told Fox News that the classes would include “English language development and social emotional learning,” and the teachers who volunteer to participate would follow public health measures recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“All children in California, regardless of immigration status, have a constitutional right to education. We also have a moral obligation to ensure a bright future for our children,” the SDCOE spokesperson said.

San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond criticized the move, noting that SDUSD schools have been shut down for more than a year.

“It’s great that there’s in-person learning for those unaccompanied minors from Central America, but I wish every child in San Diego County was allowed the same opportunity for in-person teaching,” Desmond told Fox News.

Following months-long back-and-forths over whether and how to reopen schools, the SDUSD earlier this month reached a deal with its teachers union to allow some students to return to classrooms.

According to the agreement between the school district and the union leaders, the number of days SDUSD students will be able to attend classes in person depends on how many of their schoolmates also choose in-person learning. For example, a school where all families choose to return to classrooms may be offered two days a week of in-person classes for each student, but a school where only half of families choose to return may be offered four days a week of in-person classes.