The following is a transcript of an interview with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona that aired on Sunday, August 8, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
JOHN DICKERSON: And it’s back to school time across America, so we turn to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. He joins us from Meriden, Connecticut. Good morning, Mr. Secretary. I want to jump right in. The governors of Texas and Florida have enacted measure- measures to forbid mask mandates. You said you were going to talk to them. Have you talked to them? Or if you haven’t, when you do, what will you say?
SECRETARY OF EDUCATION MIGUEL CARDONA: Good morning, JOHN. Yes, we are ready, 50 million students across the country are ready to return to school in person. We owe it to our students to safely reopen schools and make sure they have the best opportunity for learning, which we know as educators is in person. And yes, in all hands on deck effort. I have calls out to many governors, including Governor Hutchinson, which we just heard from. And I did talk to Governor Abbott and I spoke to the commissioner in Florida. We need to work together to make sure our schools are safe for all students and for our staff
JOHN DICKERSON: You make any progress in those phone calls?
SEC. CARDONA: You know, I think what we’re seeing across the country is we recognize the importance of vaccinations and the president put a charge on all of us. Let’s get our vaccination pop-up clinics set up in our schools where students feel comfortable going to get it. And I think everyone across the country agrees on that. I believe strongly that we need to do everything, including our mitigation strategies, to make sure our students are safe. The data is showing us that in places where they’re not following those mitigation strategies, we’re putting students at risk. We can’t accept that.
JOHN DICKERSON: You said in a briefing this week that governors in those states of Texas and Florida are putting politics- they’re letting politics interfere. Do you see no merit, though, to their argument that basically the school experience is- is impinged by wearing a mask?
SEC. CARDONA: Listen, I understand the fatigue of wearing masks. I don’t like wearing masks. I know my own children don’t want to wear masks. They are vaccinated, but we also understand that this is bigger than us. We’re trying to keep infection rates low. And I think it’s more dangerous for students to be home and have interrupt- interrupted learning because of the decisions that we’re making. We’re clearly at a fork in the road in this country. You’re either going to help students be in school in person and keep them safe or the decisions you make are going to hurt students. That’s where we are right now. And while I understand the argument around not wanting to wear masks because we’re fatigued, it- it- without question, students safety and staff safety come first.
JOHN DICKERSON: And your- your argument, asI take it, is that if you don’t allow some flexibility or if you don’t have masks in schools, you’re going to see interruptions. I mean, there’s a quarter of the country in which there are these blockages on mask mandates. Do you expect in that quarter of the country you could have schooling actually fully interrupted?
SEC. CARDONA: I do believe that. I mean, the segment before 18 students in a classroom had to be quarantined because masks weren’t being used and perhaps they were in close contact. We’ve done this before. Last year, we spent a whole year trying to safely reopen schools. This year, we have the benefit of the return to school roadmap, that provides tips for families and for schools, the benefit of the American Rescue Plan where resources are there to make sure our schools are safe and then the vaccination efforts that are underway. We know what works. We’ve seen it work. We just have to follow the guidance from CDC and let our educators and education leaders lead. They know what to do to keep our schools safe. Let’s give them the opportunity to do what’s right.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me get your insight on some- on the cost of this pandemic, on schooling. The New York Times had an analysis they did with Stanford University that showed that in 33 states, 10,000 local public schools lost at least 20% of their kindergartners. First of all, can you assess the gravity of that figure? And secondly, what are we going to do about it?
SEC. CARDONA: I saw that, and my experience last year in Connecticut, as we reopen schools, we- we saw also that our kindergarten numbers were very low. Half of the number of students that didn’t return to school were three, four and five year olds. And what that tells us is that we must double down as educators to reach out to those families and share with them what we’re doing to keep their children safe. You know, as I said before, as a parent, nothing is more important to me than the safety of my children. And I think our role now as educators is to communicate that schools are safe places. We know early childhood education is critically important to the success of our students. So having our students come into the classroom where they learn by doing, learning social and emotional skills by doing as three, four or five year olds is critically important. It’s our job now to help parents feel comfortable with what we’re doing to keep their children safe.
JOHN DICKERSON: One of the ways that parents can feel comfortable is increasing the vaccination rates, as you mentioned, particularly with teachers. What is your position on teachers mandatory vaccination among teachers in schools?
SEC. CARDONA: Sure, well, we’re promoting the week of action where we’re really getting the message across the country to get vaccinated when you’re eligible. We’re having pop up clinics in schools. And just tomorrow, I’m going to be in Kansas with the Second Gentleman promoting some of the vaccine efforts underway there and for the educators. I feel strongly that if you’re eligible to get vaccinated, get vaccinated, do your part to make sure that we’re all safe and that we can reopen schools without interruptions. Again, our students have suffered enough. It’s time for all of us to do our part to keep our students and staff safe. Students need to be in the classrooms. That’s where they learn best.
JOHN DICKERSON: Teachers union representative Randi Weingarten on NBC suggested that the teachers should get vaccinated. How helpful will that be in that cause?
SEC. CARDONA: It’s helpful and- and quite frankly, I think we recognize as educators across the country that we’re going to get farther if we work together and that’s what we’re seeing across the country. Educators who have bent over backwards for our students this last year are coming together to say, let’s do our part. We know they- they are lining up to get vaccinated. Ninety percent of the teachers across the country have gotten vaccinated. We’re proud of that. We want to keep the efforts going. We want our youth to get vaccinated. Listen, and to those who are making policies that are preventing this, don’t be the reason why schools are interrupted, why children can’t go to extracurricular activities, why games are canceled. We need to do our part as leaders like Governor Hutchinson is doing, to make sure that they have access to the decision that they need to make to get their students safely back in school.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right, Secretary Cardona, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate it. And we’ll be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION. Stay with us.