Education Secretary: ‘We’re Clearly at a Fork in the Road’ in Opening Schools Safely

Education Secretary: ‘We’re Clearly at a Fork in the Road’ in Opening Schools Safely


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Janet Ybarra
Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press

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As the new school year fast approaches, school districts can either adhere to pandemic guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and open with some confidence of safety — or ignore guidance for masks and such, and run the risk that in-school instruction will be interrupted as it was last year when the pandemic first emerged.

That’s the warning from Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

The Biden administration has been struggling with a handful of such Republican-led states as Florida and Texas, where the governors have been issuing executive orders banning mask mandates in their states.

“Listen, I understand the fatigue of wearing masks. I don’t like wearing masks. I know my own children don’t want to wear masks. They are vaccinated, but we also understand that this is bigger than us. We’re trying to keep infection rates low. And I think it’s more dangerous for students to be home and have interrupted learning because of the decisions that we’re making,” Cardona said. “We’re clearly at a fork in the road in this country. You’re either going to help students be in school in person and keep them safe or the decisions you make are going to hurt students. That’s where we are right now. And while I understand the argument around not wanting to wear masks because we’re fatigued, without question, student safety and staff safety come first.”

Those states where governors are banning mask mandates could well find during the school year that COVID-19 infections are running high enough that they will have to once again close schools and move back to a distance-learning approach from home.

“I do believe that. … We’ve done this before. Last year we spent a whole year trying to safely reopen schools. This year we have the benefit of the return to school roadmap that provides tips for families and for schools, the benefit of the American Rescue Plan where resources are there to make sure our schools are safe and then the vaccination efforts that are underway,” Cardona said, referring to the major pandemic-relief package Congress approved earlier this year. “We know what works. We’ve seen it work. We just have to follow the guidance from CDC and let our educators and education leaders lead. They know what to do to keep our schools safe. Let’s give them the opportunity to do what’s right.”

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