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Biden defends school policies, downplays recent shutdowns

POLITICO
POLITICO
 2022-01-25
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President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo

President Joe Biden touted his administration’s efforts to keep schools open during the pandemic on Wednesday as some schools are returning to remote instruction because of the Omicron variant.

Biden said that while some school buildings have temporarily shut down, the vast majority have continued to conduct in-person instruction. He credited billions in funding passed as part of last year’s American Rescue Plan, as well as his administration’s vaccination initiatives, for helping students and educators stay in school and minimize learning disruption.

“Very few schools are closing,” Biden said to reporters during a press conference marking his first year in office.

The issue was highlighted during a standoff between Chicago's teachers union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot earlier this month that led to days of canceled classes before an uneasy truce was struck.

Biden quibbled with the media’s framing of the issue, saying it gives the public an inaccurate sense of how many schools are closed.

“It's always going to get [on the] front page,” Biden said of local school closures. “It’s always going to be the top of the news."

But he also said that schools should have the tools necessary to operate safely, and predicted that closures will begin to dissipate. Biden, who closely aligned himself with educators during his presidential campaign, conceded that some schools may not have prudently used the resources available to them

“All that money is there,” he said. “There's billions of dollars made available that's there.”

The administration has repeatedly said that schools can operate safely, even as the virus rips through communities and leaves many districts with staffing shortages and students isolating at home.

Nevertheless, Republicans have sought to pin the recent spate of closures in Chicago and elsewhere on Biden and Democrats for not doing enough to push back on groups advocating for temporary closures.

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