‘Five days a week’: Biden recommits to his goal for reopening K-8 schools

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden made clear Tuesday his goal is for most K-8 public schools to be open in person “five days a week” by the end of his first 100 days after the White House received widespread criticism for scaling the target back last week.

“No, that’s not true,” Biden said at CNN’s town hall in Milwaukee when asked why the White House lowered his goal to just one day of in-person schooling a week. “That’s what was reported. It was a mistake in the communication.”

Many schools, particularly in cities, are still closed for in-person instruction and operating virtually amid the coronavirus pandemic as students in other schools attend classrooms.

Frustrating parents and opening a new line of attack for Republicans, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week Biden’s goal is for more than 50% of schools to have “some teaching” in person “at least one day a week” – not necessarily fully reopened – by Day 100 of his presidency.

President Joe Biden talks during a televised town hall event at Pabst Theater, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Milwaukee.

Biden Tuesday said that statement was inaccurate and recommitted to a goal of having most K-8 schools fully open.

“I think that we’ll be close to that by the end of the first 100 days,” Biden said. “You’ll have a significant percentage of them being able to be open. My guess is they’re going to probably be pushing to open all summer, to continue like it’s a different semester.”

He added: “The goal will be five days a week.”

Debates about school reopening plans have raged for weeks as new variants of the virus spread, vaccine distribution varies widely, teachers unions in some cities push back, and many parents grow exasperated with the lack of an in-person learning option.

In a report last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said schools can safely reopen amid the pandemic if a host of safety measures are taken, including maintaining 6 feet of physical distancing inside school buildings where possible, mandating face masks, cleaning facilities and contract tracing. Reopening should also depend on the level of COVID-19 transmission in a community, the CDC said.

President Joe Biden stands on stage during a break in a televised town hall event at Pabst Theater, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Milwaukee.

Although vaccinating teachers should be prioritized, according to the CDC, it isn’t a must for in-person instruction.

“I think that we should be vaccinating teachers,” Biden said at the town hall. “We should move them up in the hierarchy.”

CDC’s new guidelines for schools:Teacher vaccinations are not a must, 6 feet separation advised

When he announced reopening goal in December, Biden said he aimed to ensure “a majority of our schools” are open within 100 days.

But in Biden’s plan to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, released on his first full day in office, the White House lowered its marker, saying the goal applies only to “a majority of K-8 schools,” not high schools.

From the outset, Biden has made clear the goal depends on funding, which he hopes to get through passage of his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. It sets aside $130 billion for school reopenings.

The U.S. Department of Education is conducting a survey for a full tally of the number of schools operating entirely virtually, partly in-person and fully in-person.

But Burbio, a company that aggregates school district calendars, found about 64% of U.S. students are already attending schools offering at least some in-person learning – therefore already meeting Biden’s goal. About 35% are attending schools with virtual-only plans.

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

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