Joe Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki said that American schools could stay open safely during the ongoing COVID-19 surge of the Omicron variant during her Wednesday press conference. She said that students do not need to continue experiencing the mental health effects of not attending school.
Also, on Wednesday, the Chicago Public Schools system closed down as the Chicago Teachers’ Union voted on Tuesday to go on strike against in-school education in favor of “remote instruction” until additional COVID-19 demands are met.
On Wednesday, a reporter asked Psaki if the administration was doing anything to get Chicago schools back open for in-person instruction. She responded by saying the White House is in “regular contact” with a “range of stakeholders” to get schools available.
Psaki emphasized Biden’s shift this week to encouraging schools to be open. She said that Biden now agrees with “medical, scientific, and education experts” that because of their efforts, the federal government claims to be “more than equipped” to ensure schools can safely open.
The New York Times reported that over 450,000 U.S. students went back to remote learning this week after the holiday break. Districts including Atlanta and Cleveland cited the Omicron variant surge as the reason for postponing the return to in-school teaching.
In Chicago, 73 percent of the 22,000 members of the Chicago Teachers’ Union voted to start a “remote work action” on Wednesday. That vote followed Democrat Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s declaration the day before that she would keep the city’s schools open to students after two years of the damage done by virtual education.
Lightfoot said that school is the safest place for students, and with most system staffers being vaccinated, there is “little transmission” inside the schools. She added that everyone should be focused on “keeping kids safely where they can learn and thrive.”
The leadership of the Chicago union claims that the Omicron put teachers at risk and demanded that all students and staff present negative COVID test results before they can return to classrooms.