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President Biden’s new target for reopening schools — having more than 50% of public schools offering at least one day of in-person classes a week — is behind where the nation’s public schools already are.
According to data from Burbio, a digital platform that tracks school data from across the country, 66 percent of students in kindergarten through 12th grade are already attending traditional in-person classes five days a week, or are on a hybrid schedule — meaning they attend at least one day a week or more.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki surprised reporters earlier this week in saying that schools will be considered “open” as long as they teach in-person at least one day a week — a goal that the U.S. is already largely achieving.
Psaki attempted to soften the landing of the White House’s announcement Wednesday, telling reporters that the president’s ideal objective “is for all schools to reopen, to stay open, to be open five days a week, for kids to be learning.”
“That’s what our focus is on,” Psaki said. “This is simply a goal for 100 days.”
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Psaki claimed that the “majority” of schools across the country are not operating under an “open” status — though only 34 percent of students in the U.S. are still attending “virtual only” classes with no option to appear in person.
“It really depends, it differs from school district to school district,” she said Wednesday.
While the White House’s goal on “reopening” schools remains dubious, they are being met with a reality check in urban areas like Chicago and San Francisco, where teacher unions are pushing back on reentering the classroom.
The city of San Francisco has filed a lawsuit against the Board of Education and the San Francisco Unified School District in a last-ditch effort to get schools reopened across the city.
“The Board of Education and the school district have had more than 10 months to roll out a concrete plan to get these kids back in school,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement following last week’s lawsuit. “So far they have earned an F.”
“Having a plan to make a plan doesn’t cut it,” he added.
The city has alleged that the school is violating the state’s constitution in providing access to public schools and discriminating against lower-income students, who cannot afford to attend one of the more than 110 private schools in the city that have reopened.
Chicago in turn, officially avoided a strike Wednesday after the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot finally struck a deal to get teachers safely back in the classrooms, first reported the Chicago Tribune.
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Swarms of teachers initially rejected Lightfoot’s attempt at an ultimatum, telling them that if they were not in their classrooms by Monday, they would be deemed absent without leave and will be terminated — prompting some to worry that the city could have a teachers strike on their hands.
The mayor did not go through with her threat, and an agreement was reached Wednesday, meaning teachers will be back in the classrooms starting tomorrow.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters last week that the vaccine is not a requirement for getting teachers back in the classroom.
“There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated,” Walensky said during a press briefing. “Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for the safe reopening of schools.”
The CDC is expected to release additional details this week for schools on how to reopen safely and return children to the classroom for in-person training.
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But even if more teachers agree to return to their classrooms without first reciveing a vaccine, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned in January that achieving that goal of reopening schools across the nation “may not happen” due to unforeseen circumstances.
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