US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona says his goal is to get all schools reopened for full time in-person learning “as soon as possible,” but says with an unprecedented event like the Covid-19 pandemic, “it is a process.”
Cardona, who was previously Connecticut’s education commissioner, told CNN’s Jake Tapper during CNN’s special “Back to School: Kids, Covid and the Fight to Reopen,” that safely opening the country’s schools is his biggest priority right now.
“This is unprecedented, I mean, we are in the middle of a pandemic. I do feel that they’re following the science and I do think that this is hard work. There is no playbook for this in any leadership course,” Cardona said.
Cardona wouldn’t put a timeline on when all of the nation’s more than 14,000 public school districts should reopen for full, five-day a week, in-person school, but says he hopes it’s as soon as possible.
“I’d like to think that in many places we can do that this spring,” Cardona told Tapper. “I know schools that are functioning all day, every day, five days a week for all students currently. And we need to continue to grow and make sure that we’re giving students an opportunity to be in school as much as possible. There is no substitute for in-person learning.”
Cardona also said he’s encouraged by the American Rescue Plan being signed by President Biden on Thursday, which will provide $125 billion to K-12 public schools. The funding will help districts implement mitigation strategies including social distancing, and for personal protective equipment and upgrades to school buildings.
Cardona said some districts lacking the proper resources have likely been a factor in slow reopening, or why they still don’t offer a hybrid or in-person option.
When pressed on whether the role of teachers unions have, on the whole, helped or hurt with the speed of school reopening, Cardona said teachers have “bent over backwards” trying to learn how to teach in a completely new way, essentially overnight.
“They need to make sure that they’re advocating for a safe work environment as well,” Cardona said. “I definitely feel that having educators, school principals, superintendents, board members at the table is a critical component of safely reopening and reopening quickly.”