President Biden takes office: NPR
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President Biden called the reopening of schools “national emergency“and said he wanted to see most of the K-12 schools in the United States open for its first 100 days in function, which would be by April.
Thusday, he announced he will sign several executive actions, including measures to move the process forward.
These come after the actions signed Wednesday aimed at improving access to colleges and relieving borrowers of student loans.
Here are the details of Thursday’s actions, as announced by the White House:
More personal protective equipment: Schools will be eligible for full reimbursement for supplies such as masks, gowns and gloves through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Disaster Relief Fund.
More tests: A pandemic testing board will use the Defense Production Act and other means to produce and distribute more tests, including for schools. Workplaces with resources, like movie sets, have relied on frequent and rapid testing to operate safely during the pandemic, but access to testing for teachers and students has been constrained by budgets.
Vaccines for teachers: Actions increase vaccine capacity in several ways; an equitable distribution to teachers in particular is mentioned.
Better data: So far, there has been no centralized, national data collection on coronavirus cases or outbreaks in schools. “I’m not sure there is a role for the department to collect and compile this research,” former US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in October. This makes it difficult to appropriately trace, isolate or even understand the impact of school openings on the course of the pandemic, or the effectiveness of various safety protocols. Many states and districts have their own reports and dashboards, and there are decentralized volunteer efforts. Among Thursday’s actions is a call on education and health and social services departments to play a more aggressive role in collecting, aggregating, analyzing and reporting data and best practices to help schools and businesses to reopen safely. This includes collecting data on the equity impacts of extended school closures.
The measures come as the Burbio organization reports that more than half of the country’s students are learning at home. Large neighborhoods, including in Chicago and Fairfax County, Virginia., are struggling to bring many students back for the first time this school year, while others closed due to a lack of staff caused by waves of quarantines. And there are concerns over whether new variants of the coronavirus could spread even faster, crushing safety precautions currently in place in schools.
In addition to the actions announced Thursday, which focused on reopening K-12 schools amid the pandemic, Biden signed several executive actions on his first day in office regarding education.
He asserted the rights of children to access school toilets, changing rooms and other facilities, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, an issue that made the news when DeVos rescinded similar directives from the Obama era.
On the higher education front, Biden took steps that would make it easier for some students to go to college and provide relief for student loan borrowers during the pandemic:
Access to college: Biden issued a proclamation ending the so-called travel ban for Muslims, which barred citizens of certain Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. The president also ordered the State Department to begin processing visas. Both measures should help colleges attract more international students after a massive drop in registrations during the Trump administration.
A new action strengthening of the Deferred Action program for children’s arrivals, or DACA, provides legal protections for people who came to the United States as children. Colleges have long supported the program, which has helped many DREAMERS enroll in college.
Student loans: Following an executive action signed on Wednesday, the Ministry of Education extended payment relief for approximately 41 million federal student loan borrowers until September 30. “Too many Americans are struggling to afford basic necessities and provide for their families,” the education ministry said in a statement. “They shouldn’t have to choose between paying off their student loans and putting food on the table.”