While President Joseph Biden spent most of his inaugural address pleading for unity, he also touched on an issue of deep importance to many American families: getting children back in school during the pandemic.
The Biden administration, in its first full day, fleshed out details for how it plans to get the country’s public school system back up and running for in-person learning nearly 10 months after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered classrooms for 50 million children.
“We can teach our children in safe schools,” Biden said in his address. He was alluding to his pledge to make it possible for most elementary school children to return to school for in-person instruction at least by the end of his first 100 days in office.
Through an expansive executive order, Biden is directing the U.S. departments of education and health and human services to provide guidance on how to reopen safely for in-person learning and operate in a way that allows schools to stay open.
The executive order tasks the departments with collaborating to produce a Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse to share lessons learned from across the country.
Just how many children could return to their classrooms, and when, could be affected by what happens to the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan Biden proposed last week in which he called for $130 billion in additional funds for schools to spend on costs related to reopening.
In addition, Biden proposed fully reimbursing states for eligible costs necessary to reopening schools through the Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Relief Fund, including personal protective equipment for staff and proposed additional resources to help schools to establish screening, testing and tracing programs.
The plan also calls for a handbook for school leaders outlining the precautions and strategies the Biden administration deems necessary for safe reopening.
Asked how the Vicksburg Warren School District would implement the changes proposed in Biden’s executive order, Superintendent Chad Shealy’s office provided the following statement:
“The Vicksburg Warren School District was able to quickly adjust to the changes we faced last spring because we had already invested in technology and had devices for every student and staff member to use at home. When school began in the fall, we responded to the needs of our families and created options for both in-school learning and distance learning. Throughout this crisis, we have followed recommendations set forth by the MS Department of Health to keep our students and staff members as safe as possible. As guidelines and requirements change, as they have been throughout, we will follow them to the best of our ability — and, as always, continue to make decisions based on what is best for our students.”