“There is no substitute for a classroom experience for our students, being in front of their teacher,” Cardona, Connecticut’s education commissioner, said at his confirmation hearing.
“So we have to do everything we can to safely reopen schools in a manner that gets the students back into their learning environment,” he added.
Cardona, whose family is from Puerto Rico, enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of Connecticut’s public education system. He began his career as fourth-grade teacher in Meriden, in the same district where he attended school. Cardona soon became a principal and then assistant superintendent of the district before being named state commissioner in 2019.
The Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is expected to forward his nomination to the full Senate for confirmation in the coming days.
Vaccinating teachers a priority, not a requirement
Some teachers unions argue that educators need to be vaccinated before returning to the classroom.
“We have great examples throughout our country of schools that are able to reopen safely and do so while following mitigation strategies,” he said, adding that he does believe there needs to be a focus on surveillance Covid testing.
At a White House briefing Wednesday, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that a growing number of studies show that students can return to school safely.
“Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools,” Walensky said.
Reopening schools in Connecticut
Cardona stopped short of calling for any requirements or deadlines for schools to reopen. Instead, he said he would partner with public health experts and provide districts with clear guidance like he did in Connecticut as the state’s education commissioner.
“He led the effort to reopen Connecticut’s schools earlier than most people thought was possible and he did it in a way that didn’t divide teachers from students and parents,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut.
Biden is calling for more federal funding
Biden argues that the ability of schools to reopen safely hinges on the resources available. He’s calling on Congress to approve another $170 billion for K-12 schools, colleges and universities to help them operate safely in person or facilitate remote learning, as part of a broader $1.9 trillion Covid relief package.
Cardona said the funding proposed by Biden is needed to help schools recover in the long term, including money for school counselors, summer programming, extended days and hiring more teachers.
“If we really want to recover, we need to invest now,” he said.
CNN’s Jen Christensen contributed reporting.