There will be “bumps in the road” as schools attempt to reopen in the new year amid a record surge in Covid-19 cases, US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Sunday.
Cardona, speaking on Fox News Sunday, said the Biden administration goal remains that all schools open for in-person learning full-time. But he acknowledged a spike in infections among teachers and other classroom personnel could cause disruptions to the plan as students return to school after the holidays.
He said school district leaders around the country were already confronting a significant number of staff unavailable to work when school resumes Monday.
“Our expectation is for schools to be open full-time for students for in person learning,” Cardona said, noting the science has improved nearly two years into the pandemic and vaccines are available for school-aged children.
“We recognize there may be some bumps in the road, especially this upcoming week when superintendents, who are working really hard across the country, are getting calls saying that some of their schools may have 5-10% of their staff not available,” he went on.
“Any decisions on very short-term or emergency closures are most likely based off of staffing issues, and ultimately those are safety issues when you don’t have adequate staff, but the goal is full time in-person learning for our students – they’ve suffered enough,” Cardona said.
Schools should be developing a testing strategy that would allow them to remain open amid the current surge, Cardona said. President Joe Biden has previously endorsed the “test-to-stay” practice that allows students exposed to Covid to avoid quarantine after receiving a negative test.
Yet tests remain scarce in many parts of the country, even as Biden works to ramp up supply. Cardona said schools should use testing as part of a broader mitigation strategy, including increasing vaccinations and adhering to other public health guidelines.
“There’s a level of urgency that we shouldn’t lose around making sure that our children learn in person,” Cardona said. “The impact of hybrid learning, the impact of remote learning, is very real for us parents who have had to experience it at home as well. So we need to do everything in our power, which includes getting access to those tests.”
Some school districts have already announced plans to move to virtual learning, including five metro Atlanta school systems.