Vice President Kamala Harris is the latest Biden administration official to dodge questions about the White House’s pledge to return teachers and students to classrooms, telling a story about her first-grade teacher rather than address new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Speaking to NBC News on Wednesday, Harris neatly sidestepped questions about whether the Biden administration is still pledging to return students to in-classroom learning five days per week within the first 100 days of President Joe Biden’s term — a pledge Biden reiterated in a town hall event Wednesday night.
“Teachers should be a priority,” Harris answered, going on to note that her “first-grade teacher had attended her law school graduation,” per Newsweek.
Asked if she believed teachers must be vaccinated in order to return to classrooms — something the CDC said last week is not necessary for safe in-person learning — Harris would only say that teachers should be a “priority” for the COVID-19 shot and that real policy on the subject should be left to the states.
“Teachers should be a priority,” Harris reiterated, noting that teachers “are critical to our children’s development, they should be able to teach in a safe place and expand the minds and the opportunities of our children. So teachers should be a priority along with other front-line workers.”
“The states are making decisions individually about where they will be on the list of who gets vaccinated,” she said.
Harris did go on to say that other “preventative” measures should be in place and that a fourth billion-dollar COVID-19 relief package is necessary for schools to be able to implement safety protocols.
NBC News Savannah Guthrie then pressed Harris on the CDC recommendations themselves, which tie the ability for schools to open safely to the infection rate in surrounding communities — a statistic that could leave many students mired in a virtual learning system until at least next year, even as many schools, in what the CDC considers “red” — or dangerous — areas of community spread have been in-person since the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.
“The issue here is not just about statistics — it’s about our kids, it’s about their parents,” Harris said, fumbling. “It’s about the fact that every day our kids are missing essential, critical days in their educational development.”
“Each day in the life of a child is a very long time,” Harris added, “And that’s why we’ve got to collectively do everything in our power to reopen our schools as quickly as possible, as safely as possible.”
The Biden administration has fallen under sharp criticism over the last several weeks over the plan to reopen schools. Although Biden himself promised to re-open schools for five-day-per-week in-classroom learning within the first 100 days of his tenure, the plan puts him at odds with teachers’ unions, who were major donors to Biden’s presidential campaign. Administration spokespeople, including Press Secretary Jen Psaki, have waffled between reiterated Biden’s commitment to his pledge and distancing the White House from CDC recommendations and scientific data.
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