Psaki Says White House 'Lacks Data' on Reopening Schools, Ignores CDC Study

White House press secretary Jen Psaki
Former White House press secretary Jen Psaki / Getty Images
February 11, 2021

White House press secretary Jen Psaki claimed a "lack of data" has kept the Biden administration from announcing a school reopening plan, ignoring growing scientific evidence that supports reopening K-12 schools. 

The White House will await further guidance from the Centers for Disease Control before acting on President Joe Biden’s promise to reopen schools in the first 100 days of his presidency, Psaki said. But the CDC indicated in January that K-12 schools could safely reopen if students wore masks and practiced other mitigation efforts like social distancing. Schools "rarely reported" outbreaks of coronavirus, according to the study.

"One of the challenges we have is that the data is not great as it relates to schools that are open or not open, how hybrid learning is impacting kids," Psaki said. "The data and the lack of data or effective data is part of the problem."

The CDC is expected to release further guidance on how to safely reopen schools tomorrow. 

The Biden administration walked back its promise to reopen schools by the end of April earlier this week, saying the president wants "some" students learning in person "at least one day a week." 

Psaki said the White House and Education Department will use CDC guidance as a "basis" for reopening schools, which have been shuttered for nearly a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the White House undermined CDC director Rochelle Walensky earlier this week when Psaki claimed the nation’s top infectious disease expert "spoke in her personal capacity" when she said that teachers need not receive the vaccine for schools to safely reopen. 

A growing body of research shows that schools can safely reopen for face-to-face instruction. Recent studies have found that coronavirus transmissions rates in schools are "extremely rare" and that schools are not driving the spread of the virus.

Remote learning has also "exacerbated long-standing educational disparities" and disproportionately impacted students of color, a Northwest Evaluation Association study from November found.  Other research has shown that distance learning and lack of social interaction during the pandemic has harmed students’ mental health.

Teachers' unions across the United States have pushed to keep schools closed during the coronavirus pandemic. Teachers also set donation records during the 2020 presidential election, OpenSecrets reported. Ninety percent of those donations went to Democrats, with President Biden receiving the bulk of them.