U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said Sunday that students...

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said Sunday that students can safely return to in-person learning despite a surge of COVID-19 cases, many linked to the omicron variant. Credit: AP/Susan Walsh

WASHINGTON — U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Sunday that "our default should be in-person learning for all students across the country," as schools prepare to reopen this week amid a COVID-19 surge.

Cardona, appearing on CBS’ "Face the Nation" and "Fox News Sunday," sought to assure parents and educators that students and school staff could return safely, given the availability of vaccines for children ages 5 and older and other practices such as mask wearing.

"I know we've had an omicron surge, but I still believe very firmly and very passionately not only as an educator, but as a parent, that our students belong in the classroom, and we can do it safely," Cardona said on CBS. "We have better tools than we had in the past to get it done. We know what works, and I believe even with omicron, our default should be in-person learning for all students across the country."

Cardona acknowledged that there "may be bumps in the road" when schools reopen this week.

"Superintendents today are getting phone calls, learning that some of their schools may have five to 10 percent of their staff not available due to COVID-19. So, we recognize that temporary emergency calls may be necessary to keep children safe," Cardona said.

Asked about concerns raised by national and local teachers unions regarding a shortage of testing kits to ensure students are not infected, Cardona told Fox News Sunday the federal government last spring allocated $10 billion for surveillance testing of schools under the American Rescue Plan relief package.

"Let’s keep our children in the classroom," Cardona said. "That should be our default thinking and as problems come up we need to come together to solve them."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief White House medical adviser, said Sunday that allowing children to return to school for in-person learning despite the Omicron surge is the right call, noting there "are really serious effects" to keeping students out of school.

"If you look at the safety of children with regard to infection, we have most of the teachers, [an] overwhelming majority of them are vaccinated," Fauci said on ABC’s "This Week."

"We now can vaccinate children from 5 years of age and older," he added. "I plead with parents to please seriously consider vaccinating your children, wearing masks in the school setting, doing tests … I think all those things put together, it's safe enough to get those kids back to school, balanced against the deleterious effects of keeping them out."

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