WASHINGTON – As President Joe Biden works to reopen most of the nation's public schools within his first 100 days, the White House clarified its benchmarks Tuesday, giving a less ambitious goal than some parents might want to hear.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that Biden's goal is for more than 50% of schools to have "some teaching" in person "at least one day a week" – not necessarily fully reopened – by Day 100 of his presidency.
"Hopefully, it's more," Psaki said. "And obviously, it is as much as is safe in each school and local district."
When he announced the goal in December, Biden said he aimed to ensure "a majority of our schools" are open within 100 days.
But in Biden's plan to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, released on his first full day in office, the White House lowered its marker, saying the goal applies only to "a majority of K-8 schools," not high schools.
From the outset, Biden has made clear the goal depends on funding in Congress as well as cities and state adopting appropriate safety measures.
The White House has pointed to the release of safety guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, expected this week, to provide direction for schools that remain closed and limited to virtual learning.
Biden has also proposed $130 billion for school reopenings in his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. The money would help pay for increased staffing to reduce class sizes, modifications to improve ventilation, and protective gear to mitigate the spread of infection. It could also go toward extended learning opportunities for students who have fallen behind.
"I think it's time for schools to reopen safely – safely," Biden said in an interview on CBS over the weekend. "You have to have fewer people in the classroom, you have to have ventilation systems that have been reworked."
Closed schools, which are concentrated in cities, face challenges to reopen that didn't exist a few months ago.
In a call last month with teacher union leaders, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, suggested Biden's time frame to reopen most K-8 classrooms might not be realistic because of new variants of the virus that allow it to spread more easily.
"That may not happen because there may be mitigating circumstances," Fauci said. "But what he really wants to do is everything within his power to help get to that."
The White House did not respond to questions from USA TODAY seeking its count of schools now open to in-person learning.
The publication Education Next conducted a survey of parents in November and December that found 28% of students are attending classes in person and 19% of students are in hybrid models with online classes and in-person instruction varying from one to five days a week. The survey found more than half of U.S. students are receiving instruction entirely remotely.
But according to Burbio, a company that aggregates school district calendars, the number of districts flipping from all-virtual to partial or full in-person instruction has already crossed the 50% goal outlined by the White House.
Burbio found 40% of U.S. students are in school districts offering full-time, in-person instruction, even though parents may continue to choose remote schooling for safety reasons. Another 25% of students are attending schools partly online, according to Burbio, while 35% of students are attending schools fully online.
Contributing: Erin Richards, USA TODAY; The Associated Press. Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Schools reopening: White House clarifies goals during COVID pandemic