President Joe Biden, during a CNN townhall Tuesday night, contradicted his press secretary’s earlier statement about the administration’s goal for reopening schools.
Back in December, Biden pledged “to bring the coronavirus pandemic under enough control to open most of the nation’s schools during his first 100 days as president.”
“It should be a national priority to get our kids back into school and keep them in school,” Biden said at the time. “If Congress provides the funding, we need to protect students, educators and staff. If states and cities put strong public health measures in place that we all follow, then my team will work to see that the majority of our schools can be open by the end of my first 100 days.”
Last week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked what Biden meant by reopening schools, whether that meant teachers in the classroom with students, kids in a classroom with a screen, or something else. Psaki responded by saying Biden’s “goal that he set is to have the majority of schools, so more than 50 percent, open by day 100 of his presidency. And that means some teaching in classrooms. So at least one a day week, hopefully it’s more. And obviously it is as much as is safe in each school and local district.”
Pressed further, Psaki said Biden defined schools being open as “Teaching at least one day a week in the majority of schools by day 100.”
The majority of schools in the nation were already hitting that benchmark, and the Biden administration received pushback for setting such a weak goal, given most people’s assumption when the president said he wanted schools open meant a return to pre-pandemic normal.
Now, a week after Psaki’s claim drew a backlash, Biden said he did mean that schools would be open “five days a week.”
Biden also appeared to blame Psaki and his communications team for the discrepancy, saying the claim that he only meant in-person learning once a week was “not true.”
“That’s what was reported. That’s not true,” Biden said of Psaki’s statement. “That was a mistake in the communications.”
During the same townhall event, Biden also explained by he no longer included high schools in his target for reopening.
“What I am talking about is, I said opening the majority of schools in K-8th grade, because they are the easiest to open, the most needed to be open because of the impact on children and families having to stay home,” he said.
As Axios reported earlier this month, some of Biden’s political advisers began privately warning the president that his goal to reopen schools would be difficult to meet. The outlet also noted that Biden has always insisted more funding for schools would be necessary for them to reopen, yet schools have already been appropriated billions in extra funding and have spent a small fraction of those funds.