President-elect Joe Biden has sharpened his calls to reopen schools since the election, but he will still have to overcome big barriers to contain the coronavirus and bring children back to classrooms.
“If Congress provides the funding we need to protect students, educators, and staff, and if states and cities put strong public health measures in place that we all follow, then my team will work to see that the majority of our schools can be open by the end of my first 100 days,” Biden said Dec. 8.
Those are some pretty big Ifs.
Some epidemiologists have said schools that have remained in remote learning this school year should be more aggressive about reopening. But as some major cities have plotted strategies to bring students back, virus rates have spiked around the country, complicating their efforts.
Biden spoke days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued strongly worded guidance urging state and local governments to step up efforts to slow the spread of the virus. Despite concerns about record high cases in some areas, the CDC cautioned that K-12 schools “should be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures have been employed and the first to reopen when they can do so safely.”
As Education Week reported recently, the success of state and local efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus rely on cooperation from a divided and sometimes resistant public.
That division, and a perceived lack of credibility for federal efforts, have been exacerbated by inconsistent and sometimes contradictory messaging strategy.
We talked to epidemiologists and crisis messaging experts about what it will take to regain frayed public trust, and they emphasized that many Americans have pretty firm mindsets about risk and prevention that may be difficult to change.
Calls for More COVID-19 Relief Funding
Biden’s recent statements were a more direct version of his language on the campaign trail: He wants schools open, but he believes many of them need more funding to get there.
Securing that funding may be difficult, though. Recent efforts to negotiate a compromise relief package have stagnated as party leaders disagree over provisions like liability protections for schools and businesses and aid to state and local governments. It’s unclear if any other attempts will succeed before Biden’s inauguration, and control of the Senate rests on a pair of January runoff elections in Georgia.
State education leaders have also disagreed with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos about whether they’ve left education funds from the CARES Act, a previous relief bill, “sitting in the bank.”
Biden’s pledge to get most schools open in the first 100 days of his presidency might not be a hopeful thing for families in some parts of the country.
One hundred days after inauguration day is April 30, and the school year is set to end in early or midMay in some areas.