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Education secretary: 'We're clearly at a fork in the road' in opening schools safely

Published on August 8, 2021 9:21 PM

by SHAYNA GREENE

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Miguel Cardona said he has reached out to different state leaders in order to find consensus on how to best protect and educate students.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Sunday that the country is at a "fork in the road" when it comes to opening schools amid a resurgent coronavirus wave.

"We're clearly at a fork in the road in this country," Cardona said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "You're either going to help students be in school in-person and be safe, or the decisions you make will hurt students. While I understand the argument around not wanting to wear masks because we're fatigued, without question student safety and staff safety come first."

Mask mandates for teachers and students has become a contentious issue across the country, particularly in Texas and Florida where Govs. Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis have adamantly opposed some Covid-19 measures.

DeSantis has been in a feud with the White House and with cities and municipalities in his own state, promising to fight any local mask mandates or lockdowns.

Cardona told CBS host John Dickerson that he has reached out to different state leaders in order to find consensus on how to best protect and educate students.

"I did talk to Gov. Abbott, and I spoke to the commissioner in Florida," Cardona said. "We need to work together to make sure our schools are safe for all students and for our staff."

"The data is showing us that in places where they're not following those mitigation strategies, we're putting students at risk," he added. "We can't accept that."

As for teachers, Cardona said it would be "helpful" if they were vaccinated, reporting that 90 percent of teachers across the country have already been vaccinated.

"Educators who have bent over backwards for our students this last year are coming together to say, "let's do our part,'" he said. "We know they are lining up to get vaccinated."

"To those who are making policies that are preventing this," Cardona said, "don't be the reason why schools are interrupted, why children can't go to extracurricular activities, why games are canceled."


Background

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Early life and education Cardona was born on July 11, 1975, in Meriden, Connecticut, to Puerto Rican parents.Cardona grew up speaking Spanish as his first language and struggled to learn English when starting kindergarten.He was raised in a housing project in Meriden and graduated from the H.C. Wilcox Technical High School, where he was a part of the automotive studies program.Cardona earned a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Central Connecticut State University in 1997. He obtained a Master of Science in bilingual and bicultural education at University of Connecticut (UConn) in 2001. In 2004, he completed a professional sixth year certification at UConn where he earned a Doctor of Education in 2011.Cardona's dissertation entitled, Sharpening the Focus of Political Will to Address Achievement Disparities, studied the gaps between English-language learners and their classmates.Cardona's doctoral major advisor was Barry G. Sheckley and his associate advisor was Casey D. Cobb.

Career Cardona began his career as a fourth-grade teacher of Israel Putnam Elementary School in Meriden, Connecticut. In 2003, at Hanover Elementary School, he was promoted and made the youngest principal in the state's history for ten years. From 2015 to 2019, Cardona served as Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning in his home town.Cardona was also an adjunct professor of education in the University of Connecticut's Department of Educational Leadership.During his career, he has focused on closing gaps between English-language learners and their peers.

In August 2019, Governor Ned Lamont appointed Cardona as Commissioner of Education; Cardona is the first Latino to be appointed to the position.

Secretary of Education In December 2020, Cardona emerged as a candidate for United States Secretary of Education in Joe Biden's cabinet. Biden began to lean toward Cardona over two other "high-profile" teachers' union leaders, Lily Eskelsen García and Randi Weingarten. By seemingly choosing Cardona over these two, Biden "appears to have sidestepped any sibling rivalry between the NEA and AFT".

Biden later announced his intention to nominate Cardona as Secretary of Education.

Cardona was brought to the attention of Biden by Linda Darling-Hammond, the leader of the transition's efforts, which she also did for Barack Obama in 2008. Darling-Hammond and Cardona have worked together on multiple projects.Politico noted that "Hispanic lawmakers are stressing in particular the need for a Latina to join the administration.

He appeared before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on February 3, 2021.On February 25, his nomination was advanced by the Senate on a cloture vote of 66–32.Cardona was confirmed on March 1, 2021 by a 64–33 vote. Cardona took his oath of office on March 1, 2021 and was ceremonially sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris on March 2, 2021.