ED Review (08/06/21)

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August 6, 2021



On August 2, the Department released the “Return to School Roadmap” to support students, educators, schools, and communities as they return to safe and healthy in-person learning this fall and emerge from the pandemic stronger than before.  The Roadmap features three “landmark” priorities that schools, school districts, and communities are encouraged to focus on to ensure all students are primed for success: (1) prioritizing the health and safety of students, educators, and staff; (2) building school communities and supporting students’ social, emotional, and mental health; and (3) accelerating academic achievement.  As part of the Roadmap, the agency will share resources for practitioners and parents on each priority and highlight schools and districts using innovative practices to help address the priorities.  It will also share how American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding and other federal relief aid may be used to tackle the priorities, as well as outline key investments from President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda needed to deal with inequities exacerbated by the pandemic, particularly for students in underserved communities. 

Among the current resources are:

  • A fact sheet for schools, families, and communities, detailing the three priorities and describing how schools and districts are addressing each in effective ways.
  • A guide for education systems explaining what schools can do to protect the health and safety of students, including increasing access to COVID-19 vaccinations and taking steps to implement the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recently updated K-12 school guidance recommending universal indoor masking for all students, educators, staff, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status (see President Biden’s statement and Secretary Cardona’s statement).
  • A checklist that parents may use to prepare themselves and their children for the safe return to in-person learning this fall, leading with information about vaccinating eligible students and using masks if students are not yet vaccinated. 

Upon the Roadmap’s release, the White House issued a fact sheet spotlighting the Administration’s efforts to safely reopen schools and support students.  Secretary Cardona also promoted the Roadmap in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR) and in remarks at a Baltimore elementary/middle school. 


Youth Vaccinations 

The Return to School Roadmap builds on the President’s call to increase COVID-19 vaccinations among adolescents as students return to school.  Vaccinations are the leading public health strategy to end the pandemic.  They are also the best way to prevent outbreaks, so students can return to and remain in classrooms. 

Last week, among other new actions to get Americans vaccinated and slow the spread of the delta variant, the President called on school districts nationwide to hold at least one pop-up vaccination clinic over the coming weeks, and the Administration directed pharmacies participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program to prioritize youth vaccinations and host clinics at schools and postsecondary institutions. 

This week, the Administration announced additional actions to help kids go back to school safely, including:

  • Incorporating COVID-19 vaccination into sports physicals for student athletes this summer and fall, with the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, and 10 other sports and medicine organizations issuing a consensus statement to all their members urging medical providers to ask about COVID-19 vaccine status during sports physicals, and, where available, administer the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Sending pediatricians to “Back to School Nights” to get communities vaccinated against COVID-19, with the National PTA calling on its 22,000 local member PTAs and parent leaders nationwide to host community conversations about getting vaccinated at Back to School parent meetings.
  • Providing schools with more resources to host pop-up vaccine clinics as students return to school, with a guide for hosting school-based clinics, template letters and text messages for school leaders to use in sending messages home for students and families about the vaccine, resources for teachers to use in discussing vaccines with students and parents, and materials parent leaders can use as part of community conversations on the vaccine.
  • Providing institutions with more resources to host pop-up vaccine clinics as students return to campus, with a “Vax to School” College Checklist to increase awareness of and access to the vaccine -- following the nearly 900 colleges in the COVID-19 College Challenge that have committed to building vaccination rates.
  • Launching a Back to School “Week of Action” (August 7-15) to get more young people vaccinated, with more than 90 youth groups, faith-based organizations, and schools hosting over 200 events and supportive canvassing, phone banks, and text banks.

(Note: Secretary Cardona joined White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki for the August 5 press briefing.) 


American Rescue Plan

Since the last ED Review issue, the Department announced approval of five more ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund state plans -- Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, and Pennsylvania -- and distributed remaining ARP ESSER funding 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 opportunities 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 22 plans have been approved (see state-by-state press releases and highlights online). 

The Department also released nearly $600 million in funding under the ARP Homeless Children and Youth (HCY) program to support students experiencing homelessness.  Back in April, the agency released the first $200 million of the $800 million in ARP HCY funding to states.  Following the Department’s approval of all state applications, the remaining funding is being made available before the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.  Funds can be used to identify children and youth experiencing homelessness.  They can also be used to provide wrap-around services, in light of the impact of the pandemic, to enable homeless children and youth to participate fully in school activities (blog post and Twitter thread). 

Moreover, responding to feedback from the field, the Department released a resource to help schools, colleges, and universities improve their ventilation systems to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and provide healthy learning environments.  This resource explains how ARP funds can be used to improve indoor air quality, as part of the agency’s broader efforts to support campuses as they welcome back students for in-person learning and build back better.  The release coincided with the Secretary Cardona’s visit to Kelley Lake Elementary School in Georgia, which is using ARP funding to invest in indoor air quality improvements (photos and video). 

Additionally, the Department announced $3.2 billion in emergency grants under the Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEER) Fund to support students who attend more than 1,800 institutions and provide resources to help these institutions recover from the impacts of the pandemic.  Some $2.97 billion from the ARP will go to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCCUs), Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), and under-resourced institutions eligible for Strengthening Institutions programs.  Some $225 million from other relief bills will go to public and non-profit institutions -- largely community colleges -- with the greatest unmet needs. 


Last week, the Department announced it will expand the Second Chance Pell experiment for the 2022-23 award year.  This pilot has provided educational opportunities for thousands of justice-involved individuals who have previously been unable to access federal need-based financial aid.  Expansion will permit up to 200 additional colleges and universities to offer prison education programs with support from the federal Pell Grant program -- up from 131 institutions participating now (blog post). 

To date, Second Chance Pell students have earned over 7,000 credentials, developing new skills and improving their odds of success.  Expansion is part of the agency’s efforts to expand access and equity in higher education.  Education is proven to reduce recidivism rates and is associated with higher employment rates, thereby improving public safety and allowing individuals to return to their homes and contribute to society. 

Colleges and universities interested in participating are directed to submit a letter of interest no later than October 28. 


At this year’s EducationUSA Forum, the Departments of State and Education -- with support from the Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security -- issued a “Joint Statement of Principles in Support of International Education.”  This is the first such public affirmation in more than 20 years.  The agencies have committed to undertaking actions with a renewed focus on international education, with 10 key principles of support.  “If it wasn’t already clear before the pandemic, it should be clear now that, in today’s interconnected world, many of our biggest challenges are global in nature,” Secretary Cardona noted in his prepared remarks.  “To address them, we must work together – [and] not just within the United States, but also with others around the world” (blog post). 



“Over the past year-and-a-half, as a nation, we experienced struggles like never before.  Schools, teachers, students, and families were challenged in ways none of us ever imagined.  But from that struggle came resilience.  Teachers, principals, school staff, parents, and -- most importantly -- our nation’s students rose to the occasion.  They demonstrated what is possible if we follow key mitigation strategies to keep our students and school communities safe.  Now, we must use our renewed strength to focus on what matters most: winning the fight against COVID-19, getting our students back in classrooms for full-time in-person learning -- together -- and making our education system better than ever before, so that all students receive the excellent education they deserve.  I’m proud to be releasing these tools to help make sure students, parents, schools, educators, and communities receive the communication and supports they need to make this academic year a success, and I want all schools this year to lead with a clear focus on health and safety, student well-being, and academic acceleration as students return to classrooms nationwide.” 

-- Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (8/2/21), in a statement on the “Return to School Roadmap 


Throughout this month, the Department is hosting 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.  The remaining topics, dates, and times are as follows: Career Opportunities in the Green and Blue Economy (August 18, 2 p.m. Eastern Time); 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. 

On August 12, from 3 to 5 p.m. ET, the multi-party Summer Learning and Enrichment Collaborative will hold its final virtual meeting for the summer, with a focus on the most important stakeholders: students!  The session will kick-off with a conversation between Secretary Cardona and a panel of inspiring students who will discuss how they have been impacted by summer programs and offer advice to educators on how to reimage, redesign, and rebuild engaging learning and enrichment opportunities for the school year.  Then, participants may choose from a wide range of tabletop discussions on helpful topics (see agenda and registration page). 

Register today for the 2021 National HBCU Week Conference, September 7-10 in Washington, D.C. 

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