The following is the full transcript of an interview with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona that aired Sunday, January 2, 2022, on "Face the Nation."
MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to the Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, who joins us from Meriden, Connecticut. Good morning to you and Happy New Year.
EDUCATION SECRETARY MIGUEL CARDONA: Good morning, MARGARET. Happy New Year to you as well.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You told me back in Nov. that there is no excuse for schools to be anything but in-person. Do you stand by that statement now?
SEC. CARDONA: I know we've had an Omicron surge, but I still believe very firmly and very passionately not only as an educator, but as a parent, that our students belong in the classroom, and we can do it safely. 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.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But then you are seeing school districts already go through closures more than 2,000 so far, according to Burbio. Teacher's unions, including the largest one in your home state of Connecticut, have said they want a delayed return because they don't have access to testing. They are concerned about infections among young children. So, it seems some of the educators disagree with you.
SEC. CARDONA: Right. You know, the goal is to have students and staff be safe in their classrooms with the use of the mitigation strategies- with a whole host of strategies that we have now that we didn't have when we were having these conversations in Mar. 2020 and to open the school year, the previous year. We have access to vaccinations for students ages five and up. We have testing that's- a different pool of tests than what we're seeing now, where we see people scrambling for tests. When the American Rescue Plan passed, there was $10 billion for surveillance testing for our districts. And we're seeing districts implementing strategies now to do surveillance testing to ensure that classrooms are safe. We understand there may be bumps in the road tomorrow. Superintendents today are getting phone calls, learning that some of their schools may have five to 10% of their staff not available due to COVID-19. So, we recognize that temporary emergency calls may be necessary to keep children safe.--
MARGARET BRENNAN: How widespread is that?
SEC. CARDONA: –But it's the expectation that through the use of American Rescue Plan funds, we address some of the shortages in staffing for the long term benefit of our students and our families.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I understand the 10 billion that was allocated in the American Rescue Plan that was months ago, but today school districts are saying they don't have the tests.
SEC. CARDONA: Right.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Whose fault is that if the money was allocated?
SEC. CARDONA: Right. Well, we know that this Omicron came quickly, and in many districts, there aren't systems set up yet. We're working closely with those systems. We've partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to help develop contracts. And we're seeing in many large districts across the country that they do have them. That, coupled with what we know, is going to help having a shorter quarantine period. We do believe our schools can remain open. We have to stay vigilant. We have to stay focused and those mitigation strategies that work and we have to continue to work together to give our students a chance to learn in the classroom.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you say now the testing is being set up, so are you saying that the federal government can ensure that every school district in the country has an adequate supply of testing this week?
SEC. CARDONA: 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- a dip in spread. 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.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, we know remote learning has hurt children. Emotionally, we are seeing the impacts of that as well, but you have teacher shortages also due to a hit to morale. People don't want to go into that classroom, many of them. Have you gotten on the phone and asked the teachers unions to still show up in person?
SEC. CARDONA: Since the beginning of the pandemic, even before I was Secretary of Education, when I was serving as commissioner here in Connecticut, we work together and we had to communicate the importance of in-person learning, but also in making sure that our educators are safe and have the support that they need. That's why it was critically important with the American Rescue Plan to have funds available to provide that safety that they needed. Vaccinations for educators was early- I mean, the president announced that, I believe it was in March and we had over 90% of our educators vaccinated by the summer. It- it- that shouldn't stop. We need to support our educators and give them the tools that they need to be successful not only during this pandemic but beyond. And I do believe that not only with American Rescue Plan, but with the plans, the proposal with the build back better agenda, we're really going to be lifting the profession the way it should be lifted. Our educators- it doesn't take a pandemic for us to appreciate what teachers can do. We need to continue to support them not only during the pandemic but beyond.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. But that's why I'm asking what you've asked the teachers union to do because out in Chicago, in Massachusetts, in Connecticut, you have teachers saying they don't feel safe.
SEC. CARDONA: Well, the message hasn't changed. We need to make sure we're following mitigation strategies. We're supporting our educators by providing a safe learning environment. We're providing vaccination for our students as young as five 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. But it works. You know, we went from 47% of our schools open in-person in Jan. of last year to 99% in Dec. We know what works. We have to stick to it. We have to support our educators, our families. And most importantly, we have to support our students.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The White House said that the unvaccinated faced a severe winter of death. Children under five cannot be vaccinated. What is your message to the parents of a kindergartner or preschooler when they send their child into the classroom? What are they supposed to think about that?
SEC. CARDONA: Right. You know, and I think about those parents regularly, I remember having to reopen schools before we had vaccines for any children. And before we had the science that we have now. So, I remember how difficult it was as a parent myself–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, but I'm talking about now and White House language about now.
SEC. CARDONA: Right. So, my message to those parents is the same message, and this is why I was mentioning that, is the same message I have to parents for the last year and a half. Mitigation strategies work when we have masks and when we're ensuring that if students are sick, they stay home. When we ensure that the people around them are vaccinated. We're protecting those children as well. But I also want to remind you of the impact on children when they were 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.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. Well, we know we will be tracking that. Thank you, and good luck to you, Mr. Secretary. We'll be right back with–
SEC. CARDONA: Thank you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: – more FACE THE NATION. Stay with us.
for more features.