Blog

Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states.

Federal

Disowning Past White House Remarks, Biden Says He Wants Many Schools Open Five Days a Week

By Andrew Ujifusa — February 16, 2021 3 min read
President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen Theater on Dec. 29, 2020, in Wilmington, Del.

President Joe Biden made the case on a national stage Tuesday for schools to reopen their doors with appropriate safeguards against the coronavirus through smaller class sizes and proper protective equipment, and also pushed for teachers to get high priority for receiving the vaccine.

In a town hall event in Milwaukee broadcast by CNN, Biden also repudiated comments from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki last week that schools holding in-person classes one day a week would count toward the Biden administration’s goal of having most K-8 schools open by April 30 (a goal that data indicate might have already been met under that standard).

Calling her comments “a mistake in the communication” that did not accurately reflect his administration’s position, Biden stressed that his goal is for those schools to open five days a week after 100 days and said he thinks schools will get “close to that.” He also raised the possibility that schools might operate during the summer to help students recover from the pandemic’s effects. That’s an idea that tracks with key elements of congressional Democrats’ latest COVID-19 relief bill, although the extent to which districts end up expanding summer school or other extended learning programs will depend on several factors.

The town hall put a priority on school reopening issues, just four days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance intended to help schools reopen safely. Based on recent rates of community transmission of the virus, almost 90 percent of counties are considered “high risk” for reopening schools with respect to in-person instruction, according to the guidance. The guidance provides somewhat more leeway for in-person classes in elementary schools than it does for middle and high schools under those conditions.

The Biden administration touted the guidance in the days before its release, saying it would provide detailed information that school leaders could act on. Yet it remains to be seen how much the guidance recommendations change the minds of state and local officials who are ultimately in charge of decisions about when to authorize remote, hybrid, and face-to-face instruction. Many schools might already be largely engaged in the practices the CDC recommends.

The first two people to ask Biden a question at the town hall raised the issue of reopening schools. A questioner who said he was a parent asked the president about his plans to get students back in classrooms. Biden acknowledged the pandemic’s “significant impact on the children and parents as well” with schools not holding in person classes.

He then said additional personal protective equipment for teachers, students, and all school staff, as well as smaller class sizes, would help schools reopen their doors. And he explained why he was focused on elementary and middle schools in terms of when certain schools resume regular classes.

“It is much better, much easier, to send kids K-8 back, because they are less likely to communicate the disease to somebody else,” Biden said. Although some research has indicated that young children are less likely to be a significant driver of infections than their older peers or adults, concerns continue about about children’s exact role in the spread of the virus. Recent CDC research about the virus’ spread in schools is here.

The next question came from a teacher, who pressed Biden about the wisdom of bringing educators and students back into school buildings. Biden focused on the importance of vaccinations, although the CDC guidance does not say that vaccinating teachers should be a prerequisite for schools to reopen safely.

“I think we should be vaccinating teachers. We should move them up in the hierarchy,” Biden responded.

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Principals Can Support Student Well-Being During COVID
Join this webinar for tips on how to support and prioritize student health and wellbeing during COVID.
Content provided by Unruly Studios
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Building Leadership Excellence Through Instructional Coaching
Join this webinar for a discussion on instructional coaching and ways you can link your implement or build on your program.
Content provided by Whetstone Education/SchoolMint
Teaching Webinar Tips for Better Hybrid Learning: Ask the Experts What Works
Register and ask your questions about hybrid learning to our expert panel.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

CCLC Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools
CCLC Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools
Marketing Coordinator
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
Sr Project Manager, Marketing (Temporary)
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association

Read Next

Federal Biden Legal Team Steps Back From Trump Stance on Transgender Female Sports Participation
The Education Department's office for civil rights pulls a letter that said Connecticut's transgender-inclusive policy violates Title IX.
4 min read
Bloomfield High School transgender athlete Terry Miller, second from left, wins the final of the 55-meter dash over transgender athlete Andraya Yearwood, far left, and other runners in the Connecticut girls Class S indoor track meet at Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Conn on Feb. 7, 2019. Transgender athletes are getting an ally in the White House next week as they seek to participate as their identified gender in high school and college sports. Attorneys on both sides say they expect President-elect Joe Biden’s Department of Education will switch sides in legal battles that could go a long way in determining whether transgender athletes are treated by the sex on their birth certificates or by how they identify.
Bloomfield High School transgender athlete Terry Miller, second from left, wins over transgender athlete Andraya Yearwood, far left, and other runners in an event in New Haven, Conn. The two transgender athletes are at the center of a legal fight in Connecticut over the participation of transgender female athletes in girls' or women's sports.
Pat Eaton-Robb/AP
Federal Congress Again Tries to Pass Eagles Act, Focused on School Shootings After Parkland
A group of bipartisan Congressional lawmakers is once again trying to get a law passed aimed at preventing school violence.
Devoun Cetoute & Carli Teproff, Miami Herald
2 min read
Suzanne Devine Clark, an art teacher at Deerfield Beach Elementary School, places painted stones at a memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2019 during the first anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Suzanne Devine Clark, an art teacher at Deerfield Beach Elementary School, places painted stones at a memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2019 during the first anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Federal Some Districts Extend Paid Leave Policies as They Hope for Passage of Biden Relief Plan
With federal provisions having expired, some school employees have had to dip into their own banks of leave for COVID-19 purposes.
5 min read
Linda Davila-Macal, a seventh grade reading teacher at BL Garza Middle School in Edinburg, Texas, works from her virtual classroom at her home on Aug. 31, 2020.
A teacher leads a virtual classroom from her home.
Delcia Lopez/The Monitor via AP
Federal President Biden Is Walking a 'Careful Tightrope' When It Comes to School Reopenings
CDC guidance and confusion over his rhetoric turn up the pressure, and could overshadow progress in schools and nuanced public opinion.
9 min read
President Joe Biden answers questions during a televised town hall event at Pabst Theater in Milwaukee on Feb. 16, 2021.
President Joe Biden answers questions during a televised town hall event in Milwaukee earlier this month.
Evan Vucci/AP