The White House said that all school districts can and should have the resources necessary to safely continuing operating for face-to-face instruction, pointing to the large pot of money allocated to schools as part of the American Rescue Plan passed early last year.
“We know they can be open safely, and we’re here to make that happen,” Psaki said.
The Biden administration has been steadfast in its belief that schools should stay open despite the mounting pressure from teachers unions and others. Psaki said Wednesday that teachers “selflessly serve their communities” but that the nation is “more than equipped to ensure schools are open” and to “ensure that children are not enduring the mental health impact of not being in school, that there are not gaps in learning. This includes schools everywhere, including in Chicago.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, said Tuesday night that the city is continuing to work to resolve the dispute with the teachers union, while also pleading with teachers to return to their classrooms. Her office did not immediately return an email seeking comment on Psaki’s Wednesday comments.
“We are committed to remaining at the table with CTU leadership and negotiating a fair agreement,” Lightfoot wrote on Twitter. “But what we cannot accept is unilateral action to shut down the entire district, depriving hundreds of thousands of students of the safe, in-person schooling environment they need.”
Psaki said that the administration is working with state and local officials to ensure that funding is being sent out to, and utilized by, school districts in order to meet their respective needs. The press secretary added that unnecessary disruptions pose further risks to children’s mental health and learning — both of which have suffered during the pandemic that has entered its third calendar year.
The Chicago Teachers Union said it is in alignment with the White House and that the issue is with the mayor’s handling of the city’s schools.
“The Biden administration has done everything that they were supposed to do, and we agree with them completely,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said in an interview. “The failure is with implementation. The failure is with administration.”
While Chicago is on the forefront of the tension over keeping classrooms open, given the spread of the virus and its Omicron variant in the U.S., but similar tensions are percolating throughout the country. Many school districts face staffing shortages and issues such as testing availability that have exasperated parents and educators in recent weeks.
The standoff also poses political complications for the White House ahead of a challenging midterm election for Democrats and risks irking teachers unions, a long-standing ally. Biden in particular has made a point to regularly tout his pro-labor credentials, including his marriage to Jill Biden, a long-time community college professor and National Education Association member.