Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Wednesday schools should use federal money to host coronavirus vaccine clinics as students return to in-person classes this fall, saying only “adult actions” could prevent students from returning to class full-time.
“Schools should be open,” Cardona told HuffPost. “I would be very disappointed if adult actions interfere with students’ ability to learn in person.”
Cardona also said states should repeal laws barring local school districts and municipalities from mandating masks for students and teachers, arguing mask requirements might be necessary for a safe return to school as the coronavirus pandemic continues. He declined, however, to say whether states should require teachers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“I know vaccines work,” Cardona said in a brief phone interview after delivering a speech at an elementary school in Baltimore on the administration’s plans to return children safely to school. “But I’ll leave decisions on whether or not to mandate something to the health experts.”
Republicans have intermittently hammered Democratic President Joe Biden over school closures due to the pandemic, often arguing his administration is more concerned with placating teachers’ unions than helping students learn. The administration is counting on a smooth return to schools this fall to keep the nation’s economic recovery on track and fend off further GOP attacks.
In his speech, Cardona said school districts around the country should use more than $130 billion in federal aid included in the administration’s coronavirus relief package to encourage parents, teachers and students older than 12 to get the vaccines, including by hosting clinics.
“I know it’s hard work, but we need every district, every superintendent, every leader in every community to take this on, so we can get more students and community members vaccinated and so we can defeat this virus,” Cardona said.
Cardona said holding school-based clinics would give trusted community members the chance to persuade vaccine skeptics to get the life-saving shot.
I know it’s hard work, but we need every district, every superintendent, every leader in every community to take this on.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona
“When we say we want vaccine clinics set up in schools, it’s because people trust their school principal, they trust their school nurse, they have a relationship with those people,” he said. “And that’s how we allay those fears.”
The vaccines have been shown to virtually eliminate the risk of death from the COVID-19 virus and to dramatically decrease the chances of getting or spreading the disease. Children under 12 are not eligible for any of the available vaccines. Roughly 70% of Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Still, Cardona said school districts should not shy away from requiring masks while the nation continues its march toward higher vaccination rates. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended all elementary and high school students wear masks in school this fall.
“We cannot let mask fatigue, pride, or politics get in the way of doing
what is right for our students,” he said during his speech.
In his interview, Cardona praised Arkansas GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who said on Tuesday he regretted signing a law earlier this year that barred localities and school districts from imposing mask requirements in schools. Hutchinson has called for a special session of the state legislature to repeal the law.
At least eight states, all with Republican governors, have passed laws banning mask mandates. Cardona said other governors should follow Hutchinson’s lead and push for the repeal of those laws.
“Of course,” Cardona said when asked about repealing the laws, adding that he discussed the issue with Hutchinson. “I consider that strong leadership in the face of a crisis, and the willingness and the ability to look at the data and make decisions to help students and communities thrive.”