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Biden Education Secretary Tries To Thread The Needle On School Closures, Mask Mandates Amid COVID-19 Surge

President Joe Biden’s Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona addressed a trend of school closures and mask mandates due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases during a Wednesday press briefing.

Schools and universities in Kentucky, Texas, Maryland, Louisiana and Georgia began masking and cancelling classes at the beginning of the school year, citing COVID-19 numbers. Though Cardona told the Daily Caller News Foundation that he has told schools not to close down to prevent further learning loss that students experienced during the pandemic, he maintained that he will defer to localities and medical experts’ judgement.

“Schools must stay open, our kids cannot do it again — I’m unapologetic about that. With that said, I trust the judgment of our local leaders and our health experts … they know transmission better than I do and better than Ted Cruz does,” Cardona told reporters. “What we need to do is make sure we’re caring for the well being of the students and trusting our medical experts and our health departments to work to make sure that we can stay open.”

In late August, Kentucky‘s Magoffin County Schools and Lee County School District cancelled classes due to COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses. Runge Independent School District, located in Texas, also cancelled classes due to COVID-19, while Rosemary Hills Elementary School in Maryland is requiring some kindergarteners and staff exposed to the virus to wear masks.

Dillard University in Louisiana and Morris Brown College (MBC) in Georgia also brought back mask mandates. MBC later backtracked and lifted the mask mandate on Sept. 6 following criticism, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Cardona believes that school closures are a result of not having enough staff to maintain classrooms, he told the DCNF.

“They’re not closing schools because of proliferation of COVID, they’re closing it because the classroom teacher has to stay home. And the classroom teacher has to stay home, possibly because the classroom teacher has COVID,” Cardona told the DCNF. “When we don’t have enough staff in the building to keep children safe, children will not be safe.”

Students underwent record learning loss due to pandemic-era policies, which Cardona has said is a priority of his department to overcome. Math and reading levels of students K-12 between 2020 and 2022 plummeted to the lowest levels in two decades following government lockdowns, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“I have confidence in my educators, working with our health partners, we know so much more now than we did three years ago. It’s my expectation that our schools stay open, that we give students more not less. So I want to be very clear about that. At this point in the game, we should know how to maintain our schools open,” Cardona told the DCNF.

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