ED Review (07/23/21)

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July 23, 2021


Updated CDC Guidance 

On July 9, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated guidance for COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools, emphasizing the importance of getting as many eligible children vaccinated as possible to return classrooms to near normal and enumerating its list of best practices to prevent transmission of the Coronavirus.  These guidelines note that fully vaccinated students and staff may not need to wear masks at school.  (However, because of the CDC order requiring masks on public transportation, they would have to wear masks on school buses.)  For children too young to get a vaccination at this time, the CDC recommends multiple strategies to reduce the risk of transmission, including mask-wearing for ages 2 and up and physical distancing, when possible, of a minimum of three feet in indoor school settings (even when students are vaccinated).  Additional protective measures include frequent hand-washing and good indoor ventilation and cleaning procedures.  The CDC also urges any students or staff with signs of illness to stay home, be tested for COVID-19, and quarantine if indicated.  The guidelines put a priority on in-school instruction and stress the need to remain flexible.  Ultimately, they are intended to supplement state and local health and safety laws and regulations and should be adopted and implemented in collaboration with state and local public health agencies. 

Not coincidentally, the Department’s most recent “Lessons from the Field” webinar focused on the latest federal guidance on strategies for safely returning to school. 

Separately, the CDC issued updated guidance for operating child care and early education programs. 

Meanwhile, in an advisory, noted by Secretary Cardona in a tweet, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned the American public about the urgent threat of health misinformation and called for a whole-of-society approach to fully address health misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. 


AFP School Tour 

The Secretary spent last week -- National Summer Learning Week -- traveling across the country to highlight how the President’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) and Build Back Better agenda are helping to make education more accessible for affordable for all students (preview tweet and recap photos and video). 

On Monday (July 12), in Charlotte, North Carolina, he visited Johnson C. Smith University, an Historically Black College and University (HBCU), and a Camp CMS program at Paw Creek Elementary School. 

On Tuesday (July 13), in Oregon, he visited a bilingual summer enrichment program at Witch Hazel Elementary School in Hillsboro and met with the students and leaders of regional community colleges at Southridge High School’s library in Beaverton. 

On Wednesday (July 14), in Los Angeles, he participated in a special “field day” mentoring event with National Basketball Association (NBA) Cares Ambassador and former player Jason Collins, entertainment executives and artists, and education non-profit leaders, as part of the READY SET initiative. 

On Thursday (July 15), in Arizona, he visited Tohono O’odham Community College, a Tribal College and University (TCU) primarily serving the Tohono O’odham Nation. 

Finally, on Friday (July 16), in New Jersey, he visited Rowan College of South Jersey in Sewell and North Camden Community Center. 

The Secretary also recorded a promotional video extolling National Summer Learning Week, which ran on iHeartRadio stations across the country. 

And, Christian Rhodes, Chief of Staff in the Department’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), penned a personal Homeroom blog: “A Summer to Remember.” 


American Rescue Plan 

Since the last ED Review issue, the Department announced approval of 10 more American Rescue Plan (ARP) Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund state plans -- Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, and West Virginia -- and distributed remaining ARP ESSER funds to those jurisdictions.  The plans detail how states are currently using and intend to use ARP ESSER funds to safely reopen and sustain the operation of schools and classrooms and address the needs of students, including by equitably expanding educational opportunity for students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.  Earlier this year, the Department distributed two-thirds of ARP ESSER funds, or $81 billion, to all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  The remaining third is being made available to states once plans are approved.  To date, a total of 17 plans have been approved (see press releases and highlights online). 

The Department also announced some $20 million available to Tribal Education Agencies (TEAs) through ARP to meet the urgent needs of students impacted by the pandemic.  The American Indian Resilience in Education (AIRE) grant program will fund culturally relevant projects designed to assist and encourage Indian children and youth to enter, remain in, or reenter school at any grade level.  The Department conducted a virtual tribal consultation session to inform policy decisions on the program’s priorities, requirements, and definitions, and the Office of Indian Education will host a pre-application webinar on July 28 to encourage and support high-quality applications (blog post). 

Moreover, the Department released “Frequently Asked Questions: Using American Rescue Plan Funding to Support Full-Service Community Schools and Related Strategies” to inform state and local efforts in effectively using ARP ESSER funds to support evidence-based, full-service community schools and similar approaches (press release). 

Additionally, the agency posted final requirements regarding the implementation of the Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools (EANS) program through ARP.  Governors have until September 9 to apply (see application template).  The program itself will be administered by State Education Agencies (SEAs). 


This week, in response to a July 16 federal district court ruling regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reaffirmed that, under the law, public elementary and secondary schools remain available to any student, and no state can deny access to public education to any resident, regardless of their immigration status.  OCR will continue to safeguard those rights for all students, including those affected by the ruling.  It will also work to ensure public schools, colleges, and universities are welcoming, safe, and supportive places where every student -- regardless of where they were born and their immigration status -- is afforded the opportunity to succeed (blog post). 

Also this week, as it continues its comprehensive review of the Department’s actions under Title IX, OCR released a questions-and-answers document explaining how it interprets schools obligations under the 2020 amendments to the Title IX regulation and shared the transcript of its June 7-11 public hearing, capturing the testimony provided by participants (blog post). 

In the same post, OCR spotlights the Administration’s steps to advance equality for transgender Americans, including a new “White House Toolkit on Transgender Equality” that features a resource sheet from the Department on supporting transgender youth in schools. 


The Department recently announced temporary changes to the federal student aid verification process for the 2021-22 award year.  These changes will provide relief to millions of students and institutions facing challenges as a result of the pandemic.  The agency will focus aid verification on identity theft and fraud for the 2021-22 application cycle, significantly reducing other barriers that have prevented students most in need from accessing financial aid funds. 

Verification is an administrative process by which the Department requires a subset of federal student aid applicants who are eligible for Pell Grants to submit additional documentation, such as transcripts of tax returns, to verify their income and other information reported on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form.  Non-Pell-eligible applicants are not selected for income verification.  As a result, the process disproportionately burdens students from low-income backgrounds and students of color. 

Typically, more than three million potential Pell Grant recipients are selected for verification each year.  Unfortunately, due to the challenges they face in acquiring the required documentation, some students never complete verification and, thus, do not receive the financial aid they need to enroll.  Targeting verification for the 2021-22 application cycle will make it easier for students from low-income backgrounds to access federal student aid and alleviate some of the burden faced by financial aid administrators, allowing them to focus their time and resources on administering emergency relief funds and getting students into and through higher education.  (Note: These temporary changes are accompanied by tools and oversight measures the agency uses to monitor suspicious activity, mitigate fraud, and identify over- and under-awards of Pell Grant funds.) 


  • This month, tens of millions of American families received their first expanded Child Tax Credit payments.
  • Secretary Cardona spoke with Washington Post opinion writer Jonathan Capehart about policies that can help students, educators, and families as school reopen in the fall.
  • While on travel, the Secretary was also interviewed on the “Education Matters” weekly TV show about critical issues during school reopening and in the upcoming years.
  • Plus, the Secretary, White House Office of Public Engagement Associate Director Emily Voorde, and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) Deputy Assistant Secretary Katy Neas met with public educators self-identified as disabled to reiterate the Administration’s commitment to students and educators with disabilities (readout and Secretary’s tweet).
  • The Department is currently inviting applications for grant awards under the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program (deadline: August 11) and the Teacher and School Leader Incentive program (deadline: August 13).
  • The Department is also currently inviting applications for American History and Civics grant competitions.  These notices (1 and 2) include two priorities that are invitational, meaning they encourage -- but do not require -- applicants to address specific topics that are important to the agency (blog post).
  • Report on Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2020,” jointly produced by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), presents new data on victimization, bullying, school conditions, and K-12 and postsecondary safety and security measures.
  • The Department’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) office has added leaders in key roles that will focus on improving operations and accountability in the areas of student loan servicing and institutional compliance. 


“What I’ve seen work throughout the country is when our educators work closely with our health experts to ensure that the mitigation strategies that are needed are being used, not only to reduce transmission, which is the most important thing, but also to build confidence, to make sure that parents are sending their children to school.  I can tell you now the impact on students when they’re not in school is great, and we need to really recognize that.  If the students are not in school, the experience is not the same.  And after a year-and-a-half, the way we’ve had it, they deserve to be in school every day -- all day -- utilizing the mitigation strategies we know that work.  We are keeping an eye on the delta variant…but we were able to reopen schools safely in August 2020.  I’m fortunate my own children went to school from day one, and that was critically important for not only their academic success, but, even more importantly, for their happiness.  All children across the country deserve that opportunity.  We need to do everything that we can to make sure we’re promoting a safe return to school…and a full return to school for all students.” 

-- Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (7/19/21), from an interview by Washington Post opinion writer Jonathan Capehart 


Next month, the Department will host virtual listening sessions to support an exchange of ideas around the opportunities for federal climate leadership.  These sessions will inform the agency’s Climate Adaptation Plan and subsequent implementation and explore the connection between climate, safe reopening of schools, and ongoing efforts to advance educational equity.  Topics, dates, and times are as follows: Equity in Sustainable Schools: Targeting Underserved Populations for Federal Support (August 3, 2 p.m. Eastern Time); School Infrastructure and Federal Programs (August 5, 2 p.m. ET); Career Opportunities in the Green and Blue Economy (August 18, 2 p.m. ET); Incentivizing Outdoor and Environmental Education (August 23, 2 p.m. ET); and Postsecondary Sustainability (August 30, 2 p.m. ET).  All are welcome.  Please register with name, title, and organization to ED.Green.Ribbon.Schools@ed.gov. 

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