The Biden White House swatted down the notion that the president should use his platform to prod the teachers’ unions to re-open schools across the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I reject the premise of the question,” Biden spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday when The Post asked whether Biden should use his bully pulpit to persuade teachers to return to the classrooms.
Many educators are concerned that students are getting an inferior instruction via remote learning from home instead of in-person.
Psaki noted she has “teachers in my family” and that instructors want to return to school and prefer “engaging with kids in the classroom.”
“The president is absolutely committed to opening the schools and to keep them open in a safe way,” she said.
Psaki said a broad reopening of schools may not happen until Congress passes Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which she said would provide resources to open the school safely.
But Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnel said billions of dollars are currently available to reopen schools:
“Just six weeks ago, Congress sent another huge sum to help schools. It brought the total for K-12 to about $68 billion. As of the latest update, only $4 billion of the 68 had been spent. Ninety four percent of the K-12 funding we have already provided is still in the pipeline,” McConnell said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday the relief bill won’t likely clear Congress before mid-March, when a COVID-19 unemployment insurance program expires and would need to be extended to help the jobless.
Psaki said the White House is also awaiting official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, even though CDC Director Rochelle Walensky opined Wednesday teachers do not need to be vaccinated in order to reopen schools.
But Psaki on Thursday said Walensky was speaking in her personal capacity.
“The guidance will come officially from the CDC. There’s a lot of data we’re looking at. We’re looking at vaccinations ….Mask wearing, social distancing and proper ventilation,” Psaki said during Friday’s White House briefing.
It is largely up to governors to send kids back to classrooms, but Biden has not urged them or other local leaders or unions to do so, raising questions about his vow to safely reopen a majority of K-8 schools in his first 100 days in office.
Teachers unions in cities like Chicago, however, are advocating for continued at-home learning, defying the mayor’s order to return to the classroom over concerns about COVID-19.
The New York City Department of Education is one of the few large urban school districts that has reopened some school buildings with staggered classes, under strict safety protocols.
The San Francisco teachers union also scuttled a plan to send students back to school by the end of January after it failed to reach a deal with the local school district over proposed working conditions.
Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who oversaw the nation’s largest school system for 12 years, on Wednesday urged Biden to “stand up” to unions and tell teachers to “suck it up.”
“It’s time for Joe Biden to stand up and to say, the kids are the most important things, important players here,” Bloomberg said on MSNBC.
But team Biden has made it clear they do not want to get into a public spat with the teachers’ unions, a key constituency that helps bankroll the Democratic Party and its candidates — and its leaders are big Biden boosters.