How the U.S. Department of Education is Helping Schools Reopen Safely and Meet the Needs of Students

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How the U.S. Department of Education is Helping Schools Reopen Safely and Meet the Needs of Students

March 23, 2021

COVID-19 has been devastating for students and families. Despite heroic work by educators, staff, and families, the pandemic has led to increased absences, interruptions in learning opportunities and outcomes, more hungry kids and families, and more social isolation. The pandemic has exacerbated existing inequities for students from low-income backgrounds; Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American students; English learners; students with disabilities; students experiencing homelessness; and migratory students. That’s why the Biden-Harris Administration has launched an aggressive strategy to help schools reopen safely and equitably, maximize in-person instruction time, and address the academic, social, and emotional needs of students, including expanding opportunities for underserved students.

Tomorrow, the Department of Education is holding a National Safe School Reopening Summit, where school districts can learn virtually from one another on successful reopening strategies and how best to close gaps in educational opportunities as they reopen their doors and get students back in the classroom. The Biden-Harris Administration has taken several steps to advance the President’s goal of reopening the majority of K-8 schools within the first 100 days of his administration:

Invested $130 billion through the American Rescue Plan to help K-12 schools open quickly and safely, and serve all students

  • The American Rescue Plan gives states and schools the resources and financial stability and certainty they need to close budget holes and avoid lay-offs, implement the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommended mitigation strategies, and work to close the gaps in opportunity that COVID-19 has expanded. The funds in the American Rescue Plan will enable schools to reopen safely and maintain safe in-person instruction; support students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs; and advance educational equity. Last week, the Department announced the amount of funding each state will receive from the nearly $122 billion American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) funds, and that those funds will begin to be distributed this month.
  • To make and keep our schools safe, funds can be used to implement COVID-19 mitigation strategies, hire custodians and nurses, provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to staff and students who need it, improve ventilation, and invest in other strategies to keep students and staff safe.
  • The American Rescue Plan goes further by ensuring schools have the resources they need to address the academic, social and emotional needs of students, particularly for underserved students and those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, including students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, students with disabilities, English learners, students experiencing homelessness, migratory students, and students with inadequate access to technology. Resources can be used to hire counselors; provide extended learning time, summer learning and enrichment programs, tutoring, and afterschool; and invest in other evidence-based strategies that accelerate learning while addressing the significant social and emotional needs of students.

Partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services to keep students, teachers, and school staff safe

Released Volume 1 of the COVID-19 Handbook

  • In February, the Department released Volume 1 of the COVID-19 Handbook, which provides educators and staff with practical examples, roadmaps, and tools to implement the CDC’s K-12 operational strategy for in-person learning, including the recommended five key mitigation measures (Universal and correct use of masks; Physical distancing; Handwashing and respiratory etiquette; Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities; Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine). The Department will release Volume 2 of the Handbook next month, which will focus on additional evidence-based strategies to address the impact of COVID-19 on students, educators, and staff, especially for underserved students and communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

Prioritized vaccinations of educators and school staff, and directed $10 billion in funding for screening testing at K-12 schools to ensure schools can reopen and stay open safely

  • Earlier this month, President Biden directed all U.S. states and territories to prioritize vaccinations of teachers and staff in Pre-K-12 schools and childcare providers, with the goal of providing these frontline essential workers with at least one dose of a vaccine by the end of March. Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services also announced that CDC would provide $10 billion in funding for COVID-19 screening testing for teachers, staff, and students in K-12 schools. By expanding access to vaccinations and testing for educators and school staff, more schools will be able to safely and quickly reopen, and more students, particularly those in underserved and under-resourced communities, will be able to return to in-person instruction.

Launched a “Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse” and webinar series.

The Clearinghouse will highlight lessons learned and best practices that can help schools and districts best use American Rescue Plan funds to meet their students’ unique needs. The Clearinghouse will include resources that not only help schools prepare for and sustain in-person operations safely but also will help schools meet students’ social, emotional, mental health, academic, and other needs, including access to food and other basic needs that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. The Clearinghouse will also include resources on strategies to address the trauma that students, teachers, faculty, and staff have endured during the pandemic and the resulting economic, mental health, and emotional impacts.

Tomorrow’s summit will include remarks by President Biden and Vice President Harris, welcome remarks by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, and remarks by Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona, and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. Attendees will also hear from Learning Policy Institute President and CEO Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, students, educators, and representatives from districts across the country. During the Summit, participants will discuss successful reopening plans and how to use American Rescue Plan funds to implement CDC’s recommended mitigation strategies, close gaps in educational opportunities for underserved students who have been most impacted by the pandemic, and address the social and emotional needs of students. The Summit will be livestreamed on the Department of Education’s YouTube channel.