As COVID-19 cases hit record highs, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that it is safe for schools to remain open and that American public schools are “more than equipped” to handle the surge in cases resulting from the Omicron variant.
A reporter asked Psaki about the situation in Chicago, where the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted to switch to remote learning which prompted the city of Chicago to cancel classes the next day – without pay for teachers – so students would not be forced to return to remote learning.
“I wanted to start with Chicago,” the reporter said. “Can you tell us if the White House or the Education Department or the administration at large is doing anything to help get teachers and students back into school there, in the classroom?”
Psaki’s response appeared to suggest an opposition from the Biden administration to the push from teachers unions to shut down public schools.
“Well, we are in — across government, we are in regular contact with a range of stakeholders on the issue of school reopening and closures, including superintendents, state leaders, principals, teachers, parents, and other school staff,” Psaki responded. “And that is certainly the case now — today, this week — as we’re — as the President is working and we are all working to keep schools open.”
“As the President said yesterday, he wants schools to be open,” she added. “We know they can be open safely, and we’re here to help make that happen. And he agrees with medical, scientific, and education experts that, because of the historic work we’ve done, we are more than equipped to ensure schools are open. And we’re going to keep our children and educators, who selfless — who selflessly serve their community, safe, but ensure that children are not enduring the mental health impact of not being in school, that we are — there are not gaps in learning. This includes schools everywhere, including in Chicago.”
Psaki’s comments come as the Omicron variant has resulted in record high new cases of COVID-19, with the U.S. hitting over 1 million new cases in a single day. However, a comprehensive systemic review in the Journal of Global Health on school closures found that the closures doubled the risk of infection for students.
The study found that “opening educational establishments may not predispose children and adolescents to a higher risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection compared to adults. On the contrary, children and adolescents were found to have more than 2-fold greater risk of infection in household and community settings than in schools. The school attendance may serve as a protective factor, which reduces children’s chances of community contacts in a relatively isolated environment during school hours.”