By Tony Aiello

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — On the road to reopening, President Joe Biden’s administration is urging America’s schools to hit the gas pedal, and reopen to the safest extent possible.

On Thursday, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited Westchester County, where one district has seen 90% of its elementary students return to five-day a week in-person learning, CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported.

COVID VACCINE

He’s certainly comfortable in a classroom, perhaps because just a decade ago Cardona was principal of a small Connecticut school. Now, he runs a vast federal bureaucracy tasked with helping the country’s schools pull out of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Safe and quick reopening is my primary goal, and what I saw in White Plains is an example of what I can share,” Cardona said.

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The secretary held up White Plains schools as a model for a community pulling together to work through the issues and make it happen.

At White Plains High School, about 70% of students are back in class five days a week. Across the district, extracurriculars have returned as well.

The middle school band serenaded the secretary, as did the high school mariachi band.

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At a roundtable discussion, counselor Lily Diaz-Withers told Cardona students are desperate for resumption of traditional activities and classroom education.

“Many of them are feeling anxious. Will we ever go back to what’s normal? Many of them are depressed,” Diaz-Withers said.

Cardona acknowledged the challenge is vast and COVID-19 is just the start.

“We also have the pandemic of division and racial divide. If we can take the teamwork and the commitment and the student center-ness that I saw here around reopening schools and we address it with the inequities, I’m very confident that they’re going to have similar successful results,” Cardona said.

It’s hard to imagine a more challenging set of circumstances facing U.S. education.

Tony Aiello