The Biden Plan To Reopen Schools In 100 Days May Be Pushed Back

Good politics meets hard realities.

a woman holds onto a young boy and crosses the road

Schools will reopen in 100 days. Or…maybe not?

President Biden had pledged to reopen most schools within 100 days of office on the campaign trail and after he was elected President — but unfortunately, it looks like that plan may have to be pushed back after his Press Secretary made statements suggesting so at yesterday’s White House presser.

On Tuesday, February 9th, Psaki had suggested that instead of having most schools reopened for in-person instruction as had been a campaign priority for the Biden administration by the first 100 days, that the administration would settle for at most schools to have in-person instruction for “at least one day a week.” When pressed on it on Wednesday, February 10th, Psaki had said it was the objective of the administration to have schools open five days a week by day 100. An objective is an objective — not a commitment. Here’s why people are concerned.

Was It Really A Backtrack On the 100 Days Plan?

Not really. In late January, Carole Johnson, a testing coordinator for the Biden administration, noted that anything could change within the timeline as the situation around COVID changes. Union leaders at the National Education Association also noted that 100 days was not a hard target but more about “the urgency that he’s putting on the issue.”

Schools could still open sooner, rather than later, but mixed messages over whether or not teachers need to be vaccinated, rising COVID-19 variants like the UK and South Africa strains of the virus, and a crushing load of daily COVID cases across the country have basically run headfirst into the reality that opening schools safely is not just a matter of wanting to. Scientific guidance, money for schools, and many mitigation strategies are needed in order to be able to open schools safely.

Schools Really Need Money

Part of the reason that schools may not be reopened as quickly as the administration, or some parents, may like, is that schools desperately need funding in order to actually invest in reopening as safely as possible. And schools needed money well before the COVID-19 pandemic hit — the decades-long school funding crisis was simply exacerbated by the crisis of COVID-19.

As one Chicago Teachers Union leader pointed out, schools that largely serve Black and brown kids have been underfunded for decades — and there is a deep sense of skepticism that there will be funding put into underserved schools that need the most help and have the most structural issues.

A lot of the needed money is going to come through the $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which will put billions of dollars into helping schools overcome budget shortfalls and give them funds to invest in becoming COVID-19 resilient. That package still has not been passed — and even after it is, it could take some time before the money for schools makes it to those schools themselves and then have the repairs and preparations in schools take place.

Teachers Unions, and Some Parents, Are Skeptical

Teachers’ unions across the country have raised concerns about rushing back to reopening schools while putting the lives of teachers on the line. These concerns were only heightened when the CDC suggested that teachers don’t need to be vaccinated in order to return to in-person learning so long as other mitigation strategies were put in place. Unions understandably want their teachers to be vaccinated before returning to in-person instruction. And even if schools do reopen, some parents may want to keep their kids home, too, for extra safety, or if they live in multigenerational households or if they or their kids have any pre-existing medical conditions. These facts all add up to a complicated endeavor.

The Bottom Line

So, the majority of schools may not actually open within 100 days, a fact that the Biden administration was pretty clear on from the beginning.

Teachers’ unions are skeptical that funds will be appropriately utilized in order to do so safely, or if there even is a way to open schools safely when community transmission is so rampant and the CDC has suggested teachers don’t need to be vaccinated.

It’s possible that, by day 100, as Psaki suggested on Tuesday, about half of schools will only open for one day a week. That may be the new goal amid the circumstances.

Ultimately, it’s important to note what the NEA union leader said. It’s not that 100 days is a hard target — it’s about the sense of urgency, and priority, the administration is putting on the issue. Opening schools as safe as possible, as quickly as possible, for students and their teachers is the priority for the Biden administration.