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Joe Biden Suffers School Reopening Setback as Survey Shows Fewer Students Attending Full Time

Newsweek logo Newsweek 3 days ago Natalie Colarossi
a person standing in a room: Third grade literacy instructor Katelyn Battinelli (L), speaks with students about their pandemic-related fears on the first day of in-person learning for five days per week at Stark Elementary School on March 10, 2021 in Stamford, Connecticut. © John Moore/Getty Images Third grade literacy instructor Katelyn Battinelli (L), speaks with students about their pandemic-related fears on the first day of in-person learning for five days per week at Stark Elementary School on March 10, 2021 in Stamford, Connecticut.

President Joe Biden has been dealt a setback with his goal to reopen more schools for in-person learning, as new data shows that a majority of students are still not returning to the classroom full time even when given the chance.

According to a new survey released by the Biden administration, nearly 46 percent of public schools offered five days a week of in-person learning to all students in February, but just 34 percent of students were learning full time in the classroom.

The trend was most prominent among older K-12 students, with just 29 percent of eighth graders getting five days a week of learning at school, the Associated Press reported.

The new findings also found that school openings were practically identical to what they were last month, leaving Biden no closer to reaching his goal of opening most elementary schools to five days a week within his first 100 days of office.

The data was based off of a survey of 3,500 public schools that serve fourth graders and 3,500 schools that serve eighth graders from 37 states.

For more reporting from Newsweek, see below:

On January 21, his first full day as president, Biden announced that his administration was "directing the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services to immediately provide schools and communities with clear guidance and resources."

During his first press conference as president on January 25, Biden said: "I believe we should make school classrooms safe and secure for the students, for the teachers, and for the help that's in those schools maintaining the facilities"—adding that in order for schools to safely reopen, they need ventilation systems as well as testing for teachers and students.

"The teachers I know, they want to work. They just want to work in a safe environment, and as safe as we can rationally make it, and we can do that. And we should be able to open up every school, kindergarten through 8th grade, if in fact we administer these tests," Biden said during the press conference.

During an interview on February 7 with CBS Evening News, the president said: "I think it's time for schools to reopen safely. Safely."


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"You have to have fewer people in the classroom. You have to have ventilation systems that have been reworked. Our CDC commissioner is going to be coming out with science-based judgment, within I think as early as Wednesday, to lay out what the minimum requirements are," Biden added during the interview.

Later that month, the CDC released an updated set of guidelines for reopening schools. They focus on five key COVID-19 mitigation strategies, which include the universal and correct wearing of face masks; physical distancing; washing hands; cleaning facilities and improving ventilation; and contact tracing, isolation and quarantine.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Speaking at a coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, White House COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt described the findings as a step forward.

"This is encouraging early data covering the month of February that shows progress toward the president's goal to have K-8 schools open five days a week," Slavitt said.

Parents across the U.S. have been conflicted about a return to the classroom, expressing concerns about the virus but also about learning setbacks as their children learn remotely, according to a poll from The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The survey for the first time also collected data on how many teachers have received COVID-19 vaccines, but the findings revealed little. More than half of schools said they did not know how many teachers got at least one shot. Of those with data, just 6 percent said that between 81 percent and 100 percent of their teachers had received a vaccination.

New estimates released by the CDC on Tuesday, however, found that nearly 80 percent of K-12 employees and child care workers had received at least their first shot by the end of March. Biden said he was pleased with the achievement, even though it fell short of his goal to deliver at least one shot to every teacher, school staff member and child care worker in March.

"That's great progress protecting our educators, our essential workers," he said.

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