US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona joins Jen Psaki at the Press Briefing.
US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona joins Jen Psaki at the Press Briefing.

US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona joined today’s press briefing to promote the Department of Education’s plan for the 2021-2022 school year. He outlined what he called the “Return to School Roadmap” for students, educators and staff preparing to enter schools once again. 

In his plan, Cardona listed three priorities for the year: Protecting the health and safety of students and staff; supporting their social, emotional and mental health needs; and accelerating academic achievement. 

Cardona stressed the year as a change from 2020, saying the focus isn’t just on catching up but excelling. Many students have spent the past year in online instruction, but the Department of Education aims to open all schools for in person learning even as COVID-19 cases surge.

Now is the time to get our students back into the classroom, not to be complacent or let politics get in front of what is best for our students across the country.

US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona

The roadmap prioritizes the ongoing effort to get the nation vaccinated against COVID-19. Schools provide another venue to vaccinate individuals, but the doses are currently approved only for children 12 and older. While the doses may be approved within the next school year, safety is still a priority in the meantime. 

Cardona focused on vaccinating everybody that can get the shot. Vaccine clinics and pop-ups in schools have swept the nation, and Cardona highlighted other avenues like COVID-19 vaccines in sport physicals for student athletes. 

The widespread effort requires funding, provided by Biden’s American Rescue Plan. Cardona said the Department of Education has provided $130 billion in funds to support safe school reopening. 

The secretary of education repeatedly emphasized the urgency of in person education, even as concern rises around the safety of doing so in the wake of the Delta variant of COVID-19. 

“Now is the time to get our students back into the classroom, not to be complacent or let politics get in front of what is best for our students across the country,” said Cardona.

The discussion of politics has become a key issue in reopening schools as some Republican governors resist health policy measures. Some states are prohibiting school districts from putting mask mandates in place for the coming school year. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order recently ordering school districts not to mandate the use of masks, or they could risk losing state funding. The move comes as Florida hits an all time high in COVID-19 cases, with hospitalizations in Florida accounting for 25% of the hospitalizations nationwide. 

DeSantis went on a recent tirade against President Biden, referencing the President’s remarks telling governments that don’t follow health policy to “get out of the way”. DeSantis addressed Biden in his speech, saying “I’m standing in your way”. 

Cardona expressed concern around DeSantis’ message, as well as towards “adult action” that will disrupt students from getting back to school safely. Some parents have refused to vaccinate eligible children or follow masking suggestions in schools. 

“Don’t be the reason why students are disrupted,” said Cardona. 

Instead, Cardona implored Americans to let educators educate, saying the students have suffered enough. 

While Cardona discussed plans to open schools at length, keeping the schools open long-term offers separate concerns. Cardona’s response was simple: “We know what works”. 

I’m standing in your way

Gov. DeSantis

While the Department of Education may say they know what works, the question of how different states will navigate reopening is highly variable. Cardona didn’t have direct outlines for those states, but stressed that the issue is not one of politics. 

The message is one the White House has repeated throughout COVID-19 as the vaccine has become highly politicized across party lines. They’ve instead asked Americans to trust in the science and data provided. 

A reporter asked if the White House wants more science in schools, and Psaki joked with a pointed response. 

“We’re pro science, just in case there was confusion,” said Psaki. 

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