White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that schools are indeed safe to keep open and that American public K-12 schools are “more than equipped” to handle any surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant. Her statement was prompted by a reporter who asked for the White House’s opinion on Chicago, which has seen a battle between the city and the Chicago Teachers Union over returning to in-person learning.
The Daily Wire reported earlier that the CTU is currently demanding that the city of Chicago force public schools to move back to virtual learning so that teachers can be protected. After a Tuesday night vote in favor of keeping children out of school, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) issued a series of tweets urging teachers to come back to school, and maintaining that school would proceed in person on Thursday. On Wednesday, Chicago canceled classes altogether so that students would not have to remote-learn again.
As negotiations were reportedly proceeding Wednesday, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten claimed that Lightfoot should be “moving heaven and earth” to make schools safer for teachers. She also claimed that nobody wanted to shut down schools or not be in person.
“Across government, we are in regular contact with a range of stakeholders on the issue of school reopening and closures, including superintendents, state leaders, principals, teachers, parents, and other school staff and that is certainly the case now, today, this week, as the president is working — and we are all working — to keep schools open,” Psaki said.
When asked the president’s opinion in-school safety Psaki said that the White House knows schools “can be open safely and we’re here to help make that happen and he agrees with medical, scientific, and education experts that because of the historic work we’ve done we are more than equipped to ensure schools are open and we’re going to keep our children and educators who selflessly serve their community safe but ensure that children are not enduring the mental health impact of not being in school.”
Psaki also added that “fortunately 96% of schools” were staying open and also credited Biden with fighting “for 130 billion dollars in the American Rescue Plan for funding to schools to implement mitigation strategies including 10 billion dollars for testing which has already been distributed to states.”
“The Department of Education has also been providing technical assistance and resources for months now on everything from implementing mitigation strategies, to connecting schools with testing providers hosting vaccine clinics, and addressing pandemic mental related mental health issues” Psaki claimed.
The tension between the local teachers union and the Democratic leader of Chicago — while the AFT attempted to navigate the situation — could indicate that the typical Democrat alliance of unions lending their support to Democratic candidates and politicians may be strained this year as local unions stand at odds with officials like Lightfoot.
To that extent, Psaki avoided mentioning the AFT directly, but said the message from President Biden is “that the president wants schools to be open. He believes we have the tools for schools to be open and we’re going to continue to work to ensure that students are in classrooms they’re in classrooms safely and they are for the foreseeable future.”