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Education Secretary Warns Politicizing Masks Could Disrupt Student’s Return to Class

August 6, 2021 by Dan McCue
Education Secretary Miguel Cardono visited the White House press room Thursday to warn Americans not allow politics to prevent students from returning to school safely. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON- Education Secretary Miguel Cardono warned Thursday, Americans should not allow adult politics — particularly the politicizing of the wearing of face masks — to prevent students from returning to school safely and without future disruptions. 

“You know what I’m worried about?” Cardona asked at a White House briefing. “I’m worried that decisions that are being made … decisions that are not putting students at the center, and student health and safety at the center — are going to be why schools may be disrupted.”

“We know what works,” he continued. “We have the benefit of the experience of last year. We have strong guidance from the Centers of Disease Control. The Department of Education has created a handbook, the Back to School Roadmap, with tools and checklists.

“So the tools for a successful reopening of our schools are there,” he said, adding, “that’s why I say don’t be the reason why schools are disrupted because you want to politicize this effort to reopen schools.

“We have to keep our students safe. We have to keep our educators safe. Let our educators educate, let our leaders — school leaders lead, and we can get our schools reopened safely.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, both Republicans, banned schools from requiring masks. But some county school districts in both states have mandated masks anyway.

Asked if he had a message for those governors, Cardona reiterated his previous statement — don’t be the reason why schools are interrupted.

“Our kids have suffered enough,” he said. “Politics doesn’t have a role in this. Let’s all do what we know works, across the country.”

Cardona said he has “calls out” to both DeSantis and Abbott, and emphasized “I want to work with Texas. I want to work with Florida. I want to make sure those students have access to in-person learning. 

“At the end of the day, we’re all in this together,” he said. ‘It’s critically important that we have conversations with governors directly, with state chiefs, directly. We want to be an ally and make sure that we’re supporting our students.” 

“We all know students are provided the best opportunity to learn, and to thrive, when they’re learning in person, in their classroom, with their peers, with their teacher,” he added. 

Earlier this week, the DOE launched the Return to School Roadmap, which Cardona said provides parents, educators, students and communities with the resources they need to feel confident about — and reassured about the safety of — the upcoming school year.

“The Roadmap includes three priorities that are critical to a safe reopening,” the education secretary said. “The first one is protecting the health and safety of our students, our educators, and our staff. We need to make sure that we’re leading with health and safety first. 

“The second priority is supporting the social, emotional, and mental health needs of our students and our staff. We know that in order for students to learn at their potential, they need a strong social and emotional foundation, and we’re prepared to provide that,” he said. 

“The third is accelerating academic achievement,” he said. “We must do everything in our power to help students not only catch up, but to excel during this upcoming school year. 

“As a part of the Roadmap, we’ll be releasing resources, tools, and holding events to help more schools and more communities and parents and students prepare for the fall and make sure that every student is set up for success,” he added.

The Biden administration also announced extra steps Thursday to support back-to-school efforts.

To bolster COVID-19 vaccinations among young people, the White House next week will launch a “Back-to-School Week of Action” with partner organizations to get more young people vaccinated, as well as a number of other initiatives, including encouraging incorporating vaccinations into sports physicals in the summer and fall.

“This is an all hands on deck effort,” Cardona said. “Through the week of action, the administration is seeking to mobilize school districts, students, teachers, organizations, and leaders to get more young people vaccinated, working with parent leaders and influencers to have conversations with students and families about the importance of getting vaccinated, and to explain to them why it’s our strongest tool to combat the virus and get students back into the classrooms, on sports fields, in school plays and among their peers this fall.” 

The National Parent Teacher Association, in collaboration with the American Academy of Pediatrics, will also be encouraging the deployment of pediatricians to “Back to School Nights” across the country with COVID-19 vaccine information. 

The administration is also making additional resources available to help schools host pop-up vaccine clinics, and the president has encouraged each school in the nation to host one clinic in the coming weeks.

Cardona said while the delta variant is “providing new challenges” to ensuring all schools in every state are reopened safely, it does change the administration’s game plan.

“Again, we have the resources. And we have the experience. And we’re working very closely with the CDC to have a unified message,” he said. “We lean very heavily on our health experts to make sure that we’re communicating which mitigation strategies should be employed based on what we’re seeing with the strains of COVID-19. 

“But I’ll tell you what has worked,” Cardona said. “When you wear masks. When you provide distancing. When you are testing regularly. And when you’re quarantining those who have tested positive for the virus. When you do those things, you can function in a school. 

“So we’re expecting our education leaders and our educators to follow those practices … and we expect our students to be in the classroom every day,” he concluded.

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