Coronavirus vaccines will likely not be mandatory for teachers in order to reopen schools, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said.
Cardona made the admission Wednesday evening during an interview with “NBC Nightly News” while discussing the efforts to re-launch in-person instruction for K-12 schools nationwide, saying a mandate was not needed.
“I think we’ve seen examples where schools can open safely and be effective. But we know that prioritizing vaccinations will only assist with that,” the newly-confirmed education secretary said.
Cardona went on to tout how important the vaccine was to keeping schools open, despite the administration’s insistence that it would not require educators be vaccinated.
“My experience was when schools had to close, it wasn’t because Covid spread within the schools. It was because we had to quarantine educators. We had to quarantine teachers,” he explained, “Having the vaccination will help keep those doors open. Not only about opening schools, it’s really about making sure they stay open.”
Cardona’s comments come as the administration faces ramped-up pressure to reopen schools as fed-up parents fume over delays due to teachers union resistance, despite a green light from federal health officials back in February.
A teacher gestures to her class of mask wearing students during a socially distanced classroom sessionGetty Images
The administration has shifted its positions on everything from changing timelines on reopening to goals about how many days per week students could return for.
Pressure only increased on the administration after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky told lawmakers Wednesday that 3 feet of distance between students — along with the use of masks — was sufficient to keep schools safe.
Speaking before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, Walensky said the 6-foot separation rule was the primary hurdle for the wider reopening of classrooms across the nation.
Halving the distancing requirement would allow for far more students to be in their classrooms simultaneously and hasten a full return to in-person schooling.
Speaking to reporters from the White House that same day, Cardona said that they were “wanting to see schools reopen” this spring, but could not say that he believed the administration would meet that goal before the fall.
Still, he said, they were “doing as much as possible to safely reopen schools and get as many students as possible into the classroom this spring.”
The push to reopen schools has faced severe opposition from teachers’ unions, who insist, despite what the CDC says, that the COVID-19 pandemic remains a serious threat to students and staffers.
Roughly 70 percent of kids in New York City, the nation’s largest school system, are still learning on a fully remote basis.
Biden, a friend of the teachers unions, has refrained from using his influence to quash dissent from groups in some of the nation’s largest cities.