Psaki defends White House’s definition of reopening schools amid criticism

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday defended the Biden administration’s definition of having schools “open” during the coronavirus pandemic amid criticism that the goal is not ambitious enough and has already been met across parts of the country.

Psaki faced multiple questions during her daily briefing with reporters after she said Tuesday that Biden’s goal of having schools open within his first 100 days office meant more than 50 percent of schools were holding at least one day of in-person learning each week by the end of that time frame.

But some were quick to point out that many districts around the country were already doing at least one day of in-person learning under hybrid models, and questioned why the administration was setting the bar so low.

“Well, certainly we are not planning to celebrate at 100 days if we reach that goal,” Psaki said Wednesday. “That is our own effort to set our own markings, set an emboldened ambitious agenda for how we’re going to measure ourselves and progress, but we certainly hope to build from that even at 100 days.”

“And from there, our objective, the president’s objectives is for all schools to reopen, to stay open, to be open five days a week for kids to be learning,” she added. “That’s what our focus is on. This is simply a goal for 100 days.”

Psaki acknowledged the decisions will vary among school districts depending on the state of the pandemic. She also noted Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic relief package would include funding for schools intended to ease the resumption of in-person learning.

The press secretary’s comments underscored the difficult line the Biden White House is attempting to walk when it comes to getting students back in classrooms.

Psaki last week downplayed the scope of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study that identified schools as low-transmission zones for the coronavirus and said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky was speaking in her “personal capacity” when she said the science supports the notion that teachers can return to classrooms before they’ve been vaccinated.

Biden said during the transition that one of his goals for his first 100 days in office would be to get kids back in school.

He added in the same speech in December that he aimed to vaccinate 100 million Americans in his first 100 days. The country had already hit the daily average necessary to meet that goal during Biden’s first days in office.

Taken together, the goals from the administration have triggered criticism that they are setting the bar too low to meaningfully change the course of the pandemic.

“Having 50 percent of schools offering in-person instruction one day a week is not what millions of parents and students across the nation think of as schools reopening,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a statement on Wednesday morning. “This goal ignores the fact that over 50 percent of school districts have already offered a fully in-person or hybrid option for all of the 2020-2021 school year. Instead, it is just more dancing around by the Biden Administration and setting a low bar — and it’s unacceptable.”

Tags Jen Psaki Marco Rubio Rochelle Walensky

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