Vice President Kamala Harris repeatedly dodged questions about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on school re-openings under the Biden administration in a Wednesday morning interview.
Speaking to NBC’s “Today” show, Harris was pressed continually on the CDC’s guidance released last week on their phased re-opening of schools, specifically on the point that teachers are not required to be vaccinated.
Asked if it was a mistake that the guidance would keep 90 percent of schools closed for in-person learning, Harris would only say that it was the administration’s priority to get schools’ doors open.
“In the last four weeks, schools are opening, every week more schools are opening,” the vice president told host Savannah Guthrie, “And it is because we are supplementing what needs to happen around the vaccinations getting into states, but also because we are seeing progress, folks are wearing masks when they’re getting vaccinated, when they’re social distancing, we’re seeing progress there.”
“But we all want the schools to re-open, Savannah, all of us who have children in our lives. They want to go back to school, we want them to go back to school, teachers want to teach.”
Pressed further, Harris argued that the guidelines did not need to be followed as though they were legally binding.
“What the CDC, what they have recommended are exactly that: recommendations about how to re-open safely if they’ve been closed, how to stay open if they’ve been opened.
“Some recommendations include what, again, needs to happen around social distancing, hand-washing, mask-wearing. But the point is that we all want our kids to get back to school as quickly as possible and as safely as possible,” Harris said.
Harris then faced pushback from Guthrie on the shifting messages about schools from the administration, from changing timelines to concerns about how many days per week students could return for.
The VP defended the administration in response, saying, “Our goal is as many K-8 schools as possible will re-open within the first 100 days. Our goal is that it will be five days a week, so we have to work to achieve that goal. But our goal is the goal of parents, I mean, here’s the thing Savannah, I don’t need to tell you, the issue here is not just about statistics, it’s about our kids, it’s about their parents. It’s about the fact that every day our kids are missing essential, critical days in their educational development.”
Harris conceded the damage inflicted on children missing out on their formative years in the classroom, but kept vague on how the administration would ensure mitigation.
“We know, we have worked on this issue for years, around the fact that by the end of the third grade, if a child is not at third grade reading level they literally drop off. So each day in the life of a child is a very long time, and that’s why we’ve got to collectively do everything in our power to re-open our schools as quickly as possible and as safely as possible.”
Asked about the wariness of some teachers to return to work without taking a Covid vaccine, which some teachers unions have capitalized on to refuse to return to in-person learning, Harris also provided a non-answer.
“Teachers should be a priority [to receive the vaccine] along with other frontline workers,” Harris said twice before offering an anecdote about a favorite teacher of hers.
“And we’re going to make them one,” she added, declining to say whether teachers should feel safe returning to in-person instruction, as the CDC has advised.
Pressed by Guthrie if unvaccinated teachers should feel safe returning to the classroom, Harris replied, “Well, I think that we have to decide if we can put in place safe measures. This is why it’s so important we pass the American Rescue Plan. The American Rescue Plan, which the president and I have proposed, is a plan about getting our schools back open.”
When Guthrie asked Harris to simply address the issue of teachers being wary of exposure if they aren’t yet vaccinated, the vice president repeated her assertion that the administration thinks teachers “should be a priority.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious diseases expert, said over the weekend that it would be “optimal” but not essential for all teachers to be vaccinated before returning to the classroom, echoing a similar verdict from Biden’s new CDC director.
Biden, a friend of the teachers unions, has refrained from using his influence to squash dissent from groups in some of the nation’s largest cities.
Pressed Tuesday night during his CNN town hall about school closings, Biden said press secretary Jen Psaki was wrong when she said his plan would only see half of the children back in classrooms for as little as one day per week.
The commander-in-chief said he wanted a full school re-opening by the end of his first 100 days in office, predicting there would even be districts where they might institute a full summer school semester.
“That’s not true. There was a mistake in the communication,” Biden told CNN anchor Anderson Cooper when asked about the scaled-back one-day-per week goal.
Biden said he would be “close to” meeting his goal of re-opening the majority of K-8 schools by the end of April.
“We’ve had a significant percentage of them being able to be open,” he said.
“My guess is they’re going to be probably pushing to open all summer to continue like it’s a different semester,” he went on. “I think many of them will do five days a week, the goal will be five days a week.”