Mention of school bus drivers during the National Safe School Reopening Summit were few and far between, but President Joe Biden referred to them twice during closing comments made to announce the initial delivery of federal emergency relief.
Biden closed Wednesday’s virtual event by announcing that $81 billion in federal emergency relief funds for school districts is now available to be spent, accounting for two-thirds of the total included in the American Rescue Plan.
“I need states to move quickly to get these resources down to the school districts and put them to work,” he said.
Earlier, Biden referred to bus drivers among the education staff that was thrust into a new normal of operations over the past year. “We saw bus drivers dropping off meals instead of picking up kids,” he noted.
Biden said that at his direction, this month all teachers and school staff including school bus drivers should be vaccinated as they prepare for a full in-person reopening nationwide.
Biden also called on all states and school districts to collaborate on rolling out summer enrichment programs for this year and going forward, which could result in more demand for transportation services.
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Meanwhile, Vice President Kamala Harris provided recorded remarks during the summit presented by the U.S. Department of Education. The event primarily focused on school reopening case studies from several districts around the nation, including Cleveland Metropolitan School District, New York City Department of Education and Tulsa Public Schools in Oklahoma. The conversations centered around returning students to in-person classes and the lessons that these school districts learned when preparing staff, retrofitting school buildings, and collaborating with parents and community stakeholders.
School leaders not only discussed physical health but the academic, social and emotional supports needed, as students return en masse.
Officials from the Centers on Disease Control and Prevention also provided overviews of its latest reopening guidance and recent studies that indicate schools are not COVID-19, super-spreader cities, as long as universal masking, distancing and other safety protocols are in place.
Donna Harris-Aikens, a senior advisor for policy and planning to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, highlighted the U.S. Department of Education’s guidance to return all students to schools. She mentioned the need for school districts to engage and collaborate with “all stakeholders” in reopening plans.