White House says it will defer to CDC on reopening schools

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Facing criticism that President Joe Biden has not acted aggressively enough on reopening schools, the White House on Thursday said it’s aiming for a full reopening but will defer to science experts on how to achieve it in the middle of a pandemic.

The White House drew criticism this week when it said schools would be considered opened if they teach in-person at least one day a week. Asked about it Thursday, press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden hopes to get students in the classroom five days a week as soon as it’s safe.

Psaki did not detail a timeline for that milestone, however, saying the administration will act on new school guidance that’s expected to be released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I can assure any parent listening that his objective, his commitment, is to ensuring schools are open five days a week,” Psaki said at a press briefing. “That’s what he wants to achieve, and we are going to lead with science and the advice they are giving us.”

The task of helping schools reopen will fall to the CDC, Psaki said, and to Biden’s pick for education secretary, Miguel Cardona, whose nomination was approved Thursday by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The panel voted 17-5 in favor of Cardona, who is expected to be approved by the full Senate. He won support from the committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, who said Cardona has the “background, qualifications and temperament” to become secretary.

“He’s stressed the need for students to get back in school, and that’s now finally a bipartisan mission,” Burr said.

Biden has made schools a priority as he works to bolster a battered economy, but critics say he has scaled back on his goals amid growing challenges.