Education Secretary tells White House reopening schools is 'challenging for all'

He notes the biggest challenges include aging school buildings and ventilation, adequate transportation, and ensuring overall equity and access to education, according to a memo Cardona sent President Biden's Chief of Staff Ron Klain on Friday that was obtained exclusively by CNN.

Posted: Jun 14, 2021 8:28 AM
Updated: Jun 14, 2021 12:49 PM

US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona says there "is much work to be done" to continue the progress being made on school reopenings nationwide.

He notes the biggest challenges include aging school buildings and ventilation, adequate transportation, and ensuring overall equity and access to education, according to a memo Cardona sent President Biden's Chief of Staff Ron Klain on Friday that was obtained exclusively by CNN.

The memo outlines Cardona's findings from visiting 10 schools across nine states and Washington, DC, to observe how districts were handling reopening more than a year into the coronavirus pandemic. In some cases, he suggested the $130 billion of American Rescue Plan funding destined for schools could help districts address those challenges.

"I saw firsthand during my tour how difficult the school year has been for students, parents, teachers, and school staff," Cardona wrote. "Whether the school had just recently transitioned into a hybrid model or been fully open for months, the work has been challenging for all."

Since January, the number of public school districts offering hybrid or full-time in-person education has been on the rise, with more than 90% of K-8 schools open in April, according to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

That does not, however, include high schools, which have reopened at a slower pace than elementary and middle schools.

That number is also not reflective of student attendance, which hovers just over 50% for fourth-graders and just over 40% for eighth-graders attending school fully in-person for the month of April.

In his memo to Klain, Cardona notes the racial and ethnic disparity in school enrollment, citing April 2021 data from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

"IES data showed positive trends in in-person enrollment rates across racial and ethnic groups in April, with significantly higher rates than first reported earlier this year," Cardona wrote. "However, the same data showed that 29% of Black students, 26% of Hispanic students, and 40% of Asian students chose remote learning options in April even when offered in-person learning, compared to just 13% of their White counterparts."

Cardona said his discussions with parents and students revealed lack of childcare and a lack of confidence in schools reopening safely as the main factors contributing to the lower number of minorities willing to go back to attending school in-person.

Among the challenges Cardona witnessed were old school buildings and outdated ventilation equipment. He said the schools he visited in Philadelphia and Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, both needed to buy new airflow systems to reduce the possible spread of Covid-19 in schools.

"Many districts are using federal emergency relief dollars to purchase and implement CDC-recommended approaches to improve ventilation and air flow within classrooms and school buildings," Cardona wrote.

Another area of concern is school buses -- where additional buses, drivers and monitors are needed to adhere to distancing rules. Cardona said this issue was raised in both rural and urban districts.

"For example, some communities in DC had concerns around consistent mask-wearing on buses, leading to family hesitation to return to in-person learning. Other communities, such as Laurel, Delaware, found success in implementing three feet of distancing on buses -- but this reduced capacity on buses led to more constraints on in-person enrollment in school buildings," Cardona wrote. "Laurel took an innovative approach in extending their school day to maximize learning on the days students are learning in-person."

In his memo to Klain, Cardona said he expects all districts will "provide every student with the option to be back in the classroom full-time this fall." As part of the department's next steps in achieving that goal, it will host a summit later this month to discuss "inequities in education prior to and as a result of the pandemic."

The department will also put out resources for districts and work with them through the summer as many work to catch students up on academic losses suffered over the past 15 months.

"The summer is a critical window for students to make up for not just lost instructional time, but also lost extracurricular and community-building time. It is also an opportunity to provide more families and students with access to vaccinations as we get ready for the 2021-2022 school year," Cardona wrote.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 926604

Reported Deaths: 15083
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1262201958
Lake626901087
Allen52772747
Hamilton43283445
St. Joseph41475584
Elkhart33129488
Vanderburgh29927439
Tippecanoe26589247
Johnson23267415
Hendricks21902340
Porter21473341
Clark17150224
Madison17065379
Vigo15815273
Monroe14298190
LaPorte14108237
Delaware13771219
Howard13635262
Kosciusko11232134
Hancock10637160
Warrick10523176
Bartholomew10341167
Floyd10200202
Wayne9690218
Grant8939196
Morgan8734158
Boone8299109
Dubois7596123
Henry7469128
Dearborn745187
Noble7294101
Marshall7237128
Cass7097117
Lawrence6862150
Shelby6457107
Jackson643981
Gibson6036106
Harrison595585
Huntington591891
Montgomery5706102
DeKalb563591
Knox537599
Miami531983
Clinton527164
Putnam525367
Whitley516251
Steuben486367
Wabash477492
Jasper471961
Jefferson461991
Ripley444175
Adams439365
Daviess4064106
Scott394963
White386257
Clay382356
Greene380189
Wells379683
Decatur379595
Fayette367176
Posey354941
Jennings346356
Washington325847
LaGrange315774
Spencer313034
Fountain309753
Randolph305487
Sullivan299447
Owen279161
Starke272761
Orange272659
Fulton268851
Jay250634
Perry247451
Carroll241127
Franklin233637
Vermillion229750
Rush228930
Parke215220
Tipton206754
Pike202538
Blackford165634
Pulaski158751
Crawford142818
Newton140742
Benton139816
Brown132646
Martin126916
Switzerland123510
Warren113416
Union93511
Ohio77211
Unassigned0468

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1342777

Reported Deaths: 21471
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1502191556
Cuyahoga1327732318
Hamilton962791318
Montgomery659161136
Summit555141045
Lucas50248862
Butler46732653
Stark40741974
Lorain31004529
Warren29609328
Mahoning26462637
Clermont25206287
Lake24339416
Delaware22014143
Licking20180241
Fairfield20139221
Greene19955268
Trumbull19500508
Medina19478286
Clark17565325
Richland15949231
Portage15851228
Wood15438208
Allen13875256
Miami13549249
Muskingum12261149
Wayne11647237
Columbiana11344239
Tuscarawas10657265
Marion10509148
Pickaway10301128
Scioto10082126
Erie9618171
Ross9209174
Lawrence8516116
Hancock8298141
Ashtabula8180185
Geauga8066155
Belmont7966184
Jefferson7324168
Huron7253127
Union717849
Washington7037119
Athens681064
Sandusky6734133
Darke6559136
Knox6475121
Seneca6237137
Ashland5808112
Auglaize580488
Shelby5654101
Mercer552190
Brown551068
Defiance5361100
Madison535170
Crawford5299114
Highland527581
Fulton520082
Clinton515980
Logan503182
Preble4902110
Putnam4778106
Guernsey454661
Williams448281
Champaign436264
Perry432152
Ottawa431184
Jackson413260
Pike378941
Morrow369150
Fayette367652
Coshocton359466
Hardin350069
Adams348069
Gallia338054
Holmes3197108
Henry318868
Van Wert307170
Hocking291669
Wyandot276158
Carroll256752
Paulding236442
Meigs205242
Monroe185049
Noble164840
Morgan159228
Harrison151940
Vinton133918
Unassigned05
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