Biden pushes for billions to “safely reopen” schools in 100 days; educators cautious and challenges lie ahead

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With schooling a challenge in the pandemic, President Joe Biden and his administration will be pushing for billions to get a majority of the nation’s K-8 schools open in 100 days.

That would encompass about three months of the spring semester — close to the end of the school year —  and some teacher unions question that timeframe as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, with new strains complicating efforts to extinguish the virus.

That said, “The United States is committed to ensuring that students and educators are able to resume safe, in-person learning as quickly as possible,” according to the Biden administration’s national strategies for the country’s schools.

As it stands now, many families are continuing online instruction at home during the coronavirus pandemic. And Florida, particularly, has fought over whether in-person learning at schools should be open in the traditional sense, rather than have kids learn at online home. The debate led to a lawsuit by the Florida Education Association, which has recently dropped the case.

The Biden administration’s current goal does not mention whether high schools, grades 9-12, are expected to reopen or not during this timeframe.

Overall, the United States has close to 100,000 public schools and some 50 million students, according to U.S. Department of Education.

The president will use emergency funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse schools for “eligible costs necessary to support safe school reopening.”

Biden is also calling on Congress to allocate at “least $130 billion dedicated to funding schools, $350 billion in flexible state and local relief funds that will help districts avoid layoffs and close budget gaps, and additional resources so that schools can safely reopen.”

The Biden administration will require that the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide guidance on how schools can reopen safely.

The new administration also plans to “release a handbook that helps schools and local leaders implement precautions and strategies necessary for safe reopening.”

Another aspect of the reopening goal is to provide support for struggling childcare facilities and services, which have been facing tough economic times. The Biden administration wants to allocate $25 billion to help financially stabilize these services. In addition, the plan also asks for $15 billion to go to struggling families to help pay for childcare services.

CNN reports that the Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers, says that the 100-day goal may need to be reassessed depending on how the pandemic continues.

Others wonder whether the new administration will be able to deliver on these plans.

“I think it still comes down to whether or not the new administration, the Biden administration, can actually do a lot of the things they’re saying they want to do,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association in a conversation with the Phoenix.

“Getting the vaccination out and creating them, making sure there’s enough PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) available, creating protocols so that there can be social distancing….What we’ve seen in Florida is that all of that is really hard to do,” said Spar.

While many schools across the nation are still closed due to the pandemic, Florida schools have been open since the 2020 fall semester, with students learning in traditional classrooms as well as online instruction at home.

Spar said that he hopes Biden’s plan will “positively influence what’s going on in Florida.”