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Education Secretary Miguel Cardona says "default should be in-person learning" amid Omicron surge

Cardona on reopening schools
Education Secretary Cardona says "default should be in-person learning" amid Omicron surge 06:17

Students belong in the classroom, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Sunday, despite some calls for a return to remote learning amid the COVID-19 Omicron surge. 

"We can do it safely," Cardona said on "Face the Nation." "We have better tools than we had in the past to get it done. We know what works, and I believe even with Omicron, our default should be in-person learning for all students across the country. "

While Cardona conceded that there will be some temporarily closures, "we have to stay focused on those mitigation strategies that work." He said they have learned the mitigation strategies work "when we have masks and when we're ensuring that if students are sick, they stay home."

But, as "Face the Nation" moderator Margaret Brennan pointed out, many school distracts are scrambling for tests for students as cases surge. Cardona noted the American Rescue Plan set aside $10 billion for surveillance testing for districts, although Brennan pointed out that money was allocated months ago and many schools are saying now they don't have access to enough tests. 

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on "Face the Nation" on January 2, 2022.  CBS News

Cardona said the Omicron surge happened quickly, and they are working with districts to get them set up, and he said that many large school districts do have a testing system set up. 

"What I'm saying is that we are working with districts to set up systems that maybe we're not set up when there was a dip in spread," Cardona said." But we're working closely now to make sure that they're being set up. We're working really hard to make sure that they have access to tests and that they have resources to provide testing."

As teachers' unions in some districts have said they don't feel safe returning to in-person learning, Cardona said "the message hasn't changed."

"We're supporting our educators by providing a safe learning environment," said Cardona. "We're providing vaccination for our students as young as 5 so that the whole school community is safe. And we're providing surveillance testing to make sure that if someone is sick, that they stay home. So those are the things that we can do to provide a safe school environment, and we need to double down now that Omicron is higher to make sure that we're doing that."

Cardona urged Americans to remember the "impact on children when they are not at school, when they were home alone, when they weren't with their peers, or when they were bouncing around because their parents were working, and they couldn't stay home alone."

"So, it's really a community-based effort, protect ourselves with mitigation strategies and make sure if you're eligible to be vaccinated, that you get vaccinated," Cardona said. 

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