Psaki: We’re Working to Keep Schools Open

By Melanie Arter | January 5, 2022 | 4:14pm EST
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily press briefing on January 5, 2022, in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily press briefing on January 5, 2022, in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

( – The Biden administration is working to keep schools open, and it can be done safely amidst the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

This comes as the Chicago Teachers Union voted Tuesday in favor of returning to remote learning, prompting Chicago Public Schools to cancel classes on Wednesday.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez announced Tuesday that teachers who do not report to work on Wednesday will not get paid.

“I wanted to start with Chicago. Can you tell us if the White House or the Education Department or the administration at large is doing anything to help get teachers and students back into the school there?” Associated Press White House Correspondent Darlene Superville asked Psaki.

PSAKI: 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 we’re—as the president is working, and we are all working to keep schools open.

As the president said yesterday, he wants schools to be open. We know they 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 are 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 being in school, that there are not gaps in learning. 

This includes schools everywhere, including in Chicago. Unfortunately, 96 percent of schools are doing just that, and just as a reminder, and I know I touched on this yesterday, but the president and our administration foresaw early on that schools across the country would need additional resources. That’s why he fought for $130 billion in the American Rescue Plan for funding to schools to implement mitigation strategies, including $10 billion 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-related mental health issues, so long story short, we want schools to be open. 

The president wants them to be open, and we’re going to continue to use every resource and work to ensure that’s the case.

SUPERVILLE: Are there any equipment needs or PPE, or testing or anything like that that you’re hearing from Chicago that the White House can be helpful with in terms of trying to get schools off the virtual model and back into the classroom?

PSAKI: Again, $10 billion in testing funding has been distributed to states already prior to this month last year. That funding—I can certainly check if there’s more funding available from the state of Illinois, but we’re encouraging states to ensure that that money is being spent, is being distributed to schools that need that funding, and we already distributed $130 billion in funding to states to distribute to school districts for mitigation measures.

Now different school districts have made different decisions about what their needs are over the course of the last year, but a number of school districts did take steps to put in place contracts with testing contractors to ensure that they had that availability and access for their schools.

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