White House says schools should stay open – including Chicago

The White House said it would "ensure that children are not enduring the mental health impact of not being in school... including in Chicago."

Updated: January 5, 2022 - 4:41pm

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Thousands of schools scheduled to reopen after winter break are now closed due to concerns over the omicron COVID-19 variant, but the White House is encouraging teachers and students to return to in-person classes.

More than 650 Chicago Public Schools canceled classes Wednesday after the teacher's union voted to temporarily return to remote learning, despite protests from Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) and other officials. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded to a question about the Windy City during a press conference Wednesday: "We're more than equipped to ensure schools are open, and we're going to keep our children and educators, who selflessly serve their community, safe, but [we will] ensure that children are not enduring the mental health impact of not being in school, that we're– there are not gaps in learning. This includes schools everywhere including in Chicago."

Biden-appointed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is encouraging vaccinations to keep schools open. "Getting vaccinated & boosted is the best way to keep our classrooms safe and schools open year-round," he tweeted Wednesday.

New York Mayor Eric Adams insisted Monday that public schools stay open, and he argued that poor children suffer the most when schools close.

Lightfoot responded similarly about closed schools in her city. "Nobody signs up for being a home-schooler at the last minute. We can’t forget about how disruptive that remote process is to individual parents who have to work, who can’t afford the luxury of staying home," she said.

Lightfoot's communications director Ryan Johnson said, "The research and data indicate that [Chicago Public Schools] are safe. We cannot forget that shifting fully to remote learning is not a panacea and comes with significant harm to students and their families."

More schools have closed throughout the week as well. On Monday, 3,229 schools scheduled to open for in-person classes ended up closing or using virtual learning. As of Wednesday, more than 4,560 schools have had classes disrupted for the week.