Biden says schools ‘should probably all be open’ in the fall

President Biden Delivers First Address To Joint Session Of Congress
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: President Joe Biden hands his speech to Vice President Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) before he addresses a joint session of Congress, with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on the dais behind him, on April 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. On the eve of his 100th day in office, Biden spoke about his plan to revive America’s economy and health as it continues to recover from a devastating pandemic. He delivered his speech before 200 invited lawmakers and other government officials instead of the normal 1600 guests because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images)

(CNN) — President Joe Biden said Friday that K-12 schools “should probably all be open” in the fall for in-person learning after more than a year of most of the country’s kids facing the challenge of remote instruction due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Based on the science and the (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), they should probably all be open. There’s not overwhelming evidence that there’s much of a transmission among these people, young people,” Biden told NBC.

Biden has made reopening schools a priority since taking office, but has stressed his administration would follow the guidance of science and medical experts on how to safely reopen. The administration has faced intense criticism from some parents who feel there is not enough urgency in the push to reopen school buildings.

The President’s sweeping Covid-19 economic relief law included about $125 billion to public K-12 schools to help students return to the classroom. Schools would be allowed to use the money to reduce class sizes, update their ventilation systems, help implement social distancing, buy personal protective equipment and hire support staff. Another $2.75 billion would go to private schools.

Biden said at a virtual summit on school reopening hosted by the Department of Education last month that $81 billion of that funding would be released immediately. The money is not tied to reopening, which has led to criticism from some Republicans who wanted to use the funds to be a further incentive to reopen.

The issue of how and when to get students and teachers back in the classroom has been hotly debated since many schools across the country moved to online learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A complicating factor in reopening schools is that Covid-19 vaccines currently authorized in the United States are only available for adults, except Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine, which is authorized for people ages 16 and older.

But clinical trial results of Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine showed its efficacy is 100% in young people ages 12 to 15 and that group tolerates it well. Pfizer has asked the US Food and Drug Administration to expand the emergency use authorization to include those ages.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky suggested in February that schools could safely reopen without teachers getting vaccinated against Covid-19. The White House initially distanced itself from Walensky’s comments, as some teachers unions criticized Walensky’s comments, but White House press secretary Jen Psaki later appeared to agree with Walensky and said vaccinations are only part of several mitigating factors that will help schools reopen safely.

The CDC in February released highly anticipated guidelines for reopening schools that focus on mask wearing, physical distancing, washing hands, cleaning facilities and improving ventilation, and contact tracing, isolation and quarantine.

Last month, the CDC also made another recommendation that experts said would allow more schools to open. The CDC relaxed its physical distancing guidelines for children in schools to recommend most students maintain at least three feet of distance, down from six feet.

Reports of low levels of in-school coronavirus transmission helped persuade the CDC to lower its distancing guidelines for many schools from six feet to three feet. Reports from Utah, Missouri and Florida said if students wore masks and followed other mitigation measures to reduce transmission, the six feet of distance didn’t matter so much.