The education secretary’s comments come amid concerns over whether districts that have been slow to return students to classrooms will be able to do so to start the next school year
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said he expects every school in the country to offer families in person learning, full time, five days a week at the start of the next school year and that he stands ready to increase the Education Department’s oversight authority for those that do not.
“I want all students to have the opportunity to learn in person in the spring, but I expect it in the fall,” he said Monday during the Education Writers Association 74th annual national seminar. “I need all students to have the opportunity to learn in the school house.”
His remarks come as concerns begin mounting over whether school districts that have been slow to return all students to classrooms will have the capacity to do so at the start of the next school year – despite as much as $140 billion from the most recent coronavirus relief package flowing to K-12 schools to help them reopen.
As it stands, roughly 80% of students are enrolled in schools that offer some type of in-person learning – though that runs the gamut from being open full time for all students to limiting in-person learning to students in elementary school to operating on a hybrid model where students learn in person only one or two days each week. According to the most recent federal data, 60% of fourth-grade and 69% of eighth-grade students were still enrolled in remote learning either full time or in a hybrid model – a status that disproportionately affects students of color and low-income students in urban school districts.
“It’s a very complex issue to reopen schools in the middle of the pandemic,” Cardona said, acknowledging the various hurdles schools face. “But there is no substitute for in-person learning. Every day that kids aren’t in school is a lost opportunity for emotional connections, for relationship-building, for academic support and for the school community to wrap their arms around these children who for the past year are wondering what’s going on.”
Cardona, who previously served as state education chief in Connecticut, where he pushed the majority of school districts in the state to reopen at the beginning of this school year, recently took that message on the road during his “Help Is Here” school tour. He and President Joe Biden have been increasingly demanding that schools return all students to classrooms – even when it runs afoul of local teachers union wishes.
“Do everything you can to get the students in now,” he said.Cardona also said that he believes there is a role for increased federal oversight for school districts that fail to reopen for in-person learning, while also acknowledging that the majority of K-12 governance falls to states and local school districts.
“Yes,” he said, when asked whether the Education Department may need to increase oversight. “While it’s not the federal government’s role to micromanage education, it is our role to make sure that all children across the country are getting a free and appropriate public education, one where they have the opportunity to succeed in life.”
“I take that very seriously,” he added. “It’s going to be my role and my agency’s role to support states on that but also call out where issues are happening.”