The Senate confirmed Miguel Cardona as education secretary on Monday, jump-starting the Biden administration’s long journey toward reopening schools across the country.
One of his first acts as a newly sworn-in secretary will be to join first lady Jill Biden in a trip to Meriden, Connecticut, and Waterford, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday to visit two public schools that have recently reopened for in-person learning.
Cardona is taking the first steps in enacting President Joe Biden’s goal of reopening most schools by May, within Biden’s first 100 days in office.
In a USA Today op-ed published Tuesday evening, Cardona outlined his goals for the department through a five-point plan to achieve the administration’s goal of safely reopening schools as soon as possible.
Biden announced Tuesday that his administration would direct states to prioritize educators in vaccination efforts and try to reach the goal of educators getting at least one shot by the end of March, signaling a concerted effort to get back to in-person learning as soon as possible.
In his op-ed, Cardona emphasized the need for different stakeholders to come together to voice thoughts and concerns about reopening, and what is and isn’t working for their schools.
He said that he is planning to “convene the experts” in a national summit in March to get “critical feedback we need to make reopening as seamless as possible,” as well as hear what students need on an academic, social and emotional level.
While he did not specify when exactly the summit will take place and in what format, he said parents, students, school leadership and community organizations will be included.
The Department of Education will work to share best practices and create a “best practices clearinghouse” in order to make solutions that are working well for some schools accessible to all, Cardona said.
He also committed to providing a second edition of the Department of Education’s Covid-19 handbook to provide updated information for educators, and reaffirmed the department’s goal of conducting a national survey that will collect data on school reopening status and in-person learning. The survey was originally announced in early February.
Cardona said that schools need financial help to reopen classes safely. Biden is currently pushing for Congress to approve a total of $170 billion in education funding as part of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package.
At his confirmation hearing last month, Cardona pledged to provide clear reopening guidance, based on science, and said he believes the strategy should call for increased surveillance Covid-19 testing for educators as well as giving them priority to receive the vaccine.
The CDC has since released updated guidance for reopening in-person learning. While the new update includes washing hands, cleaning facilities and improving ventilation and contact tracing, isolation and quarantine, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said it is important to prioritize wearing masks and physical distancing.
The revised CDC guidance doesn’t list vaccination as a key strategy, but says that it does help provide “an additional layer of protection,” she said.
Teachers will not be required to be vaccinated before returning to in-person teaching.