Education Sec. Miguel Cardona unveils his five-step plan to get students back in school
“We must continue to reopen America’s schools for in-person learning as quickly and safely as possible,” Sec. Cardona wrote.
In an op-ed for USA Today, newly appointed Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona named “quickly and safely” reopening schools as his top priority, further outlining a multi-step plan to make sure communities have the tools necessary to reopen amid an ongoing pandemic.
Cardona’s column comes hours after President Joe Biden announced his step to accelerate school reopening nationwide by treating in-person learning as an essential next step in vaccine prioritization, directing Cardona’s department to take a “problem solving” initiative to work with schools, educators and students back into classrooms full-time.
Also following the president's announcement, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced PA teachers will be eligible for Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.
The decisions home during heightened concern regarding the return to school, seen locally in Philadelphia. From higher-level education administrators pushing back dates to slowly reopen schools and teachers holding public protests.
“In-person learning is contingent on the safety of students, teachers, and other school staff. Thank you Mr. President for your efforts to make sure all essential workers are vaccinated as soon as possible,” wrote Cardona on Twitter.
In-person learning is contingent on the safety of students, teachers, and other school staff. Thank you Mr. President for your efforts to make sure all essential workers are vaccinated as soon as possible. https://t.co/co2BTbkDjO
— Secretary Miguel Cardona (@SecCardona) March 3, 2021
His op-ed lists five steps that the Department of Education will take to reopen.
The first step is taking expert opinion into account by hosting a national summit on reopening, “not only to get critical feedback we need to make reopening as seamless as possible for students and staff, but also to work together to solve problems,” Cardona wrote.
He added the summit will also hear from leaders about addressing the academic, social and emotional needs of students.
For many students, schools are the only stable environments in their lives, as Dr. Evelyn Nuñez told AL DÍA in February. The problem however, as Councilmember María Quiñonez Sánchez later pointed out on Twitter, was the lack of a safe return and equitable vaccine distribution for teachers and students at the time.
With Gov. Wolf’s new orders, the predicament will change.
“Second, we’ll share best practices about the incredible work already happening in our schools,” Cardona continued, drawing from personal experience in Connecticut, where his initiatives solved common problems. It’s a bit vague, but Cardona also promised his department would look extensively to find “solutions-oriented” approaches to share with schools nationwide.
In his third step, Cardona announced the publication of a second, updated COVID-19 Handbook for schools and educators, filed with “research-based strategies to be distributed to schools.
Fourth, Cardona wrote there needs to be better data collection about how schools are operating during the pandemic.
“To that end, ED [Department of Education] recently announced the largest representative and highest quality national survey yet to collect information about schools’ reopening status and how students are learning,” Cardona wrote, adding that in March, his department hopes to have a better picture of where students are able to safely access in-person learning and where situations are more difficult.
Fifth, Cardona emphasizes that schools need financial support to reopen classrooms and stay open.
“It will require tremendous investment from the federal government to meet the academic, social, emotional and mental health needs of students, during and after the pandemic.” Cardona wrote, referencing Biden’s previous request to Congress, for at least $130 billion in funding to ensure schools are able to operate accordingly.
In a separate letter, Cardona addressed parents and students directly on the hardships endured so far, with particular attention to the already-present barriers that were in place before the pandemic began.