The U.S. Department of Education and Health and Human Services are partnering to provide school districts with guidance for reopening to in-person classes and keeping them open, as called for by an executive order signed by President Joe Biden as part of a new national strategy for pandemic response and preparedness.
Biden signed “Supporting the Reopening and Continuing Operation of Schools and Early Childhood Education Providers,” one of 10 such orders during an event at the White House on Thursday, during which he said the “full force of the federal government” will be made available for a “wartime” response to the pandemic. He added that the over 400,000 U.S. citizens who have died from COVID-19 complications since last February represent more than the servicemen and servicewomen killed during World War II.
“The honest truth is, we’re still in a dark winter of this pandemic. It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Biden said.
The order directs the DOE and HHS to collaboratively provide guidance on the safe reopening and operating of schools as well as developing a best practices clearinghouse for safer schools and campuses. DOE and HHS press officials had yet to respond at this report to emails sent by School Transportation News seeking additional details.
A related order seeks to restore full reimbursement for eligible costs of school reopening through the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund. The money is in addition to Biden’s “American Rescue Plan,” which STN previously reported includes $130 billion in dedicated funding for public schools and another $350 billion in flexible state and local relief funds to help school districts avoid layoffs and to close budget gaps. An additional $25 billion would be available to the most hard-hit children care providers.
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Other orders signed on Thursday include expanding vaccine development and rollout and increasing the availability of personal protective equipment via the Defense Production Act; increasing the availability of COVID-19 testing and develops testing protocols to hasten the safe reopening of schools and businesses; increasing worker health and safety protections; and increasing data collection and reporting for high-risk groups.
The strategy mandates the wearing of face masks by federal employees and in airports, on some planes, and in intercity buses and trains, and it also asks all state governors, mayors, public health officials, and business leaders to implement local masking and physical distancing requirements.