Biden Administration Steps Up Push for School Reopenings

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The president’s decision to vaccinate teachers was also unexpected news to some health officials. A memo that circulated on Wednesday among some at the C.D.C. shared guidance to vaccinate teachers, but Mr. Biden’s order was characterized as a surprise. “We learned when you did about the executive order put forth by President Biden yesterday,” read the memo, which was obtained by The New York Times and had been sent to officials in several states. “The pharmacies will be told to update the eligibility to this population; there is not choice.”

Caught between the priorities of parents, teachers unions and Americans who are desperate for the vaccine, White House officials greeted Dr. Cardona’s confirmation with a full list of tasks for him. As Connecticut’s education commissioner, he successfully reopened most of the state’s schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The White House now expects Dr. Cardona to push for reopenings on a national scale, even as teachers unions around the country raise concerns about the safety of returning to the classroom, and as questions arise about conflicts with existing health guidelines that vaccinations should not be required for teachers to resume in-person learning.

White House officials said Mr. Biden’s move to increase vaccinations for educators is based on the president’s view that teachers are essential workers who are crucial to getting the country back to normal. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said that inoculating teachers was “not a prerequisite,” but that Mr. Biden believed they should be “prioritized.”

Ms. Psaki defended the decision to prioritize teachers against some critics who said doing so was undermining the effort to distribute the vaccine more equitably to minority communities.

“The program is beyond teachers and includes bus drivers, janitorial workers, child care workers — a work force that is broadly incredibly diverse,” she said. “Second, getting kids back to school is one of the most equitable steps we can take because what we’ve seen statistically is that Black and Latino students are disproportionately experiencing learning loss.”

On Tuesday, after Mr. Biden announced his plan, Washington State added educators and licensed child care workers to its top tier for priority “immediately,” accelerating its plan by a few weeks.

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