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Tipsheet

Joe Biden Says 'Schools Should Remain Open' Amid Surge in COVID Cases

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

President Joe Biden said Tuesday that in-person learning should resume despite a recent uptick in coronavirus cases fueled by the omicron variant and recent pressure from teachers unions to delay the return to classrooms.

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"We have no reason to think at this point that omicron is worse for children than previous variants," Biden said during his comments at the White House. "We know that our kids can be safe when in school by the way. That’s why I believe schools should remain open. They have what they need."

He noted that $130 billion from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that passed in March went toward efforts to reopen schools and keep students safe, and another $10 billion from the plan was used for COVID-19 testing in schools.

"That money went out to the states and the states and the school districts have spent this money well, many of them, but unfortunately some of them haven’t," Biden said. "So, I encourage the states and school districts to use the funding that you still have to protect your children and keep the schools open."

Biden's remarks echo comments he had made throughout 2021 about his desire to have students in schools for in-person learning.

The president's medical team, namely, chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci, also voiced support for students to return to school.

"I plead with parents to please seriously consider vaccinating your children, wearing masks in the school setting, doing test-to-stay approaches when children get infected," Fauci said. "I think all those things put together, it's safe enough to get those kids back to school, balanced against the deleterious effects of keeping them out."

However, the White House's support for schools to stay open puts it at odds with a number of teachers unions across the country who wish to delay a return to classrooms over safety concerns due to the recent rise in COVID cases.

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American Federation of Teachers in Massachusetts president Beth Kontos said in a Friday statement that "Massachusetts public school students and their families have struggled with the uncertainty and anxiety of the COVID pandemic for two years. They have the right to know that after the holiday break they are returning to safe schools. Given the ever-increasing infection rate and the virulent behavior of the current COVID strain, we know they will not." 

She also said that state leaders must "accept the fact that we are in the midst of a runaway public health crisis that is beyond our control" and that they "must acknowledge that returning students to school" will "inevitably make the crisis much worse."

New York City's biggest teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers, urged Mayor Eric Adams to temporarily move schools to remote learning, a plea that was rejected by Adams.

And the Chicago Public Schools will close Wednesday if the Chicago Teachers Union votes Tuesday night to move back to remote learning amid a COVID infection spike.

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