Miguel Cardona: ‘Will Take Years’ to Address How Pandemic Worsened ‘Inequities’ in Schools

Miguel A. Cardona speaks during his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of Education with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC on February 3, 2021. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ANNA MONEYMAKER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
ANNA MONEYMAKER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Friday it will “take years” for the nation to “address the devastating impact of COVID-19” on the nation’s education system, “including the ways the pandemic exacerbated the existing inequities.”

“The American Rescue Plan is a victory for our nation’s students and schools,” Cardona said of the spending bill. “As I have said since being sworn into office, my top priority is getting students back into schools safely.”

The secretary said President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill contains $130 billion that will ensure K-12 teachers, students, and parents “have what they need to resume and sustain in-person learning in classrooms as quickly and safely as possible.”

Cardona said the bill also includes “$40 billion in critical resources to help colleges operate safely and provide assistance to help students complete their studies.”

The secretary added, however, that, due to the effects of the pandemic on “existing inequities” in education, schools and teachers need “predictable resources” in order to “repair the harm done.”

Cardona continued:

That’s what this rescue plan provides. The U.S. Department of Education will remain focused on ensuring school districts and college campuses have access to guidance, technical assistance, and examples of best practices to inform their efforts to get students back into classrooms and meet their social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs.

The education department announced it would convene a virtual National Safe School Reopening Summit this month “to share best practices, discuss successful mitigation and reopening strategies, and learn from students, educators, and other experts.”

In an address to the nation Thursday evening, Biden lamented the fact that many of the nation’s children have been out of school for an entire year during the pandemic, even though he has supported the teacher’s unions that have refused to return to in-person learning.

“Watching a generation of children who may be set back up to a year or more because they’ve not been in school, because of their loss of learning,” Biden said.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has consistently stated the risk for the transmission of the COVID-19 virus is minimal in schools. However, teachers’ unions in cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles, where many children are from low-income families, have defied orders to return to in-classroom instruction, even to the extent of threatening strikes and making demands unrelated to the coronavirus.

The Biden administration’s CDC director Rochelle Walensky initially said schools should be able to reopen with common mitigation methods that include the use of masks, social distancing, and frequent hand washing.

“We can re-open schools safely, even if all of the teachers are not vaccinated,” Walensky said in early February on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show.

In mid-February, however, Biden appeared to back away from his stated goal of reopening all the nation’s schools. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki revealed Biden’s campaign promise to get the majority of schools open in the first 100 days of his administration was only for in-person learning “at least one day a week” and not full-time, in-person learning.

Walensky then also adjusted her comments to say she was advocating getting “K-5 students back in school at least in a hybrid mode.”

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