(CNSNews.com) - "Our kids can't wait," Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Thursday.
"And with regard to the September, yes, I expect all schools to be open full-time, in person for all students. We really need to make sure students have an opportunity to learn in the classroom. And quite frankly, I'd rather have it this spring," he said.
"Students don't learn as well remotely. There is no substitute for in-person learning. And I'm pleased, as you mentioned, you know, we have 54 percent of our pre-k through 8th schools in full-time, every day. About 90 percent are offering in-person learning for students. But until we're at 100 percent, we must keep our foot on the gas pedal."
Cardona said he is monitoring the situation closely:
We have data systems that we set up. And we're really reaching out to make sure in that places where they're not offering in-person learning or full-time, in-person learning, we want to make sure that we're supporting those states, those districts to find out why they're not. We have a clearinghouse we released last week of hundreds of examples where it's working and strategies we can use.
We really need to make sure we keep that level of urgency. Our kids can't wait. And the same is true for colleges. And while I expect blended learning or some form of remote learning being the new landscape of education, it doesn't substitute for in-person learning. So that's why we're pushing hard to make sure all students have an opportunity to get back into the classroom as soon as possible this spring.
And when students do return to the classroom, it's not just a matter of turning on the lights, Cardona said. It's also about addressing "inequities" made worse by the pandemic:
We need to make sure that we never lose that sense of urgency, for the next several years, provide social and emotional support for those students, make sure the class sizes for those students are much smaller. Make sure we're doing wraparound services for those students.
You know, I spoke to a sixth grader recently who told me, when I came back to school, I found it difficult to socialize again because I was in front of my computer for a good part of a year. We need to make sure that our schools are prepared to provide that social/emotional support -- that interaction that our students have longed for -- and when we come back, we have to realize, this is not just about turning on the lights, providing face masks.
This is really about making sure we're providing mental health support. A lot of these students faced trauma in their lives. So we have to be prepared to work with that, but also the academic needs. I expect summer learning opportunities for students to be hands-on, outdoors, engaging with one another. Like a camp almost.
We really need to double down for our students. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to hit the reset button on things we know didn't work and really give our students the attention that they deserve. The American rescue plan provides the funds for that, so we need to step up for them.
Cardona said his own children have been in school in Meriden, Connecticut since August.
"There are examples where it's working. In those places where they're sputtering along, I want to make sure that this agency that I'm a part of is there on the ground supporting them, pushing. Our students need us more than ever now. We need them to be in the classroom."