In the 100-day plan from President Joe Biden, one of his pledges was to have students back in classrooms as swiftly as possible. His press secretary, Jen Psaki, was asked this week for specific benchmarks the White House was seeking to hit, but her answers varied.
The administration’s goal is to have in-person “teaching at least one day a week in the majority of schools by day 100,” Psaki said in a press conference on February 8, 2021. Day 100 is April 30. We’re already on Day 22, and most students in the country don’t yet have a set date that they’ll be able to return to their classrooms.
School districts, along with city and state governments, are pushing for schools to reopen sooner, rather than later, but teachers’ unions are staunchly refusing to force educators back into classrooms before COVID-19 vaccine roll-outs reach them. And recently, a few comments by CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky have inflamed that zone of conflict.
“There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen. And that that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely,” said Walensky in a recent COVID-19 briefing.
With schools staring at the stark example of Rhode Island as a warning—Rhode Island did not close schools this winter and now has one of the highest per-capita infection rates in the country—many teachers felt like this was a negligent stance to take with regards to their safety.
“That was the headline: They don’t need vaccines,” said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association. “They were very anxious and very upset.”
According to a Biden administration official, the federal government sees vaccinating teachers as a priority, but there has yet to be any official guidance by the White House issued to that effect, and few states have yet included teachers in their current ranks of those eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.