As schools reopen across most of the country, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona issued a warning to Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Cardona said that while the Delta variant is “providing new challenges,” he still expects a total return to in-class instruction. “We expect our students to be in the classroom every day,” he said.
However, Cardona said, governors such as Abbott and DeSantis should let school districts to issue their own mask mandates in order to keep the influential teachers’ unions supportive of the move back to in-person learning.
“All teachers want schools reopened,” Cardona said.
“Don’t be the reason why schools are interrupted. Let our educators educate, let our school leaders lead.”
Both GOP governors have rigorously fought against mask mandate measures, despite rising COVID infection rates.
The Delta variant has put the squeeze on the nation’s schools. Although 90 percent of American teachers are vaccinated, vaccines for children under 12 are not yet authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “After declining in early summer, child cases have steadily increased in July.”
Despite the challenges of the Delta variant, Cardona remains optimistic about the new school year, “It’s all hands on deck here. The resources are there, and the urgency is there,” he said.
Approximately $130 billion of President Biden’s coronavirus relief package is earmarked for the nation’s schools.
The funds are meant to be used to make upgrades to decades-old ventilation systems, make repairs to buildings in disrepair, hire support staff and teachers and make additional preparations for a school year that is closer to “normal.”
Nevertheless, Many educators say that the recent injection of funds will not make up for decades of public school underfunding.
Concern from teacher unions
The ease of transmissibility of the Delta variant has led to some concern that teacher’s unions could change their stance and decide that in-person learning is too dangerous for students and staff, as happened in 2020 and 2021.
Meanwhile, CDC data has shown that, properly managed, school attendance does not spread COVID more than other places in a community.
Additionally, numerous research studies indicate that remote learning is ineffective and leads to social isolation among students and, in some cases, anxiety and depression.
Cardona was superintendent of Connecticut’s public schools before becoming Education Secretary. He was praised enthusiastically for reopening schools in the state during the 2020-2021 school year.
For their part, Govs. DeSantis and Abbott have both signed measures to block school districts from enacting mask mandates. Other districts have followed suit, setting up potential legal battles.
DeSantis has shown staunch resistance to masking. He, like Secretary Cardona, was also celebrated for opening schools last year but has quickly became the subject of criticism from the Biden administration.
Conversely, the Florida governor has received support from conservatives, libertarians, and many who have mask fatigue.
Republican Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson is one governor who signed a mask ban into law but now regrets it. Hutchinson said he now wants school districts to create their mask mandates and rules but cannot change the signed ban without legislative support.