8 to 3: Education Secretary Miguel Cardona’s advice: ‘Get them into school!’

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona tosses a basketball.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona during a July 14 visit to Fairfax High School.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

This is the July 19, 2021, edition of the 8 to 3 newsletter about school, kids and parenting. Like what you’re reading? Sign up to get it in your inbox every Monday.

The back-to-school checklist this year is far weightier than new backpacks, binders and tennis shoes. For many parents, concerns about learning loss, growing uncertainties about the Delta variant and school safety rules are also part of the discussion.

I’m Paloma Esquivel, a reporter with The Times education team, filling in for Sonja Sharp. This week I had the opportunity to talk with U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona about a number of issues, including what he thinks should be foremost on the minds of anxious parents as the new academic year approaches. I want to share part of his conversation with you.

Cardona, a father of two teenagers, had one overriding message: Get children back to in-person learning.

“Get them into school,” he said. “Safely and quickly get them into school.” Cardona said he worries a lot about “the emotional and mental health well-being of our students if they continue learning remotely, when they want to be in school.”

“We know students learn best in the classroom,” he said.

But Cardona also said parents need to be kept informed about the safety strategies that schools are implementing.

“It’s our job to serve you,” he said. “And what that means is that we have to communicate with you what we’re doing to keep your children safe.”


Cardona talked about his own decision to send his children back to school in his home state of Connecticut last August, saying he looked closely at their school’s safety plan and asked himself: Do I have confidence in the system?

“I did,” he said. Looking back, he feels it was the right decision.

“My children thrived this year, being around their peers. They needed that, and they were safe,” he said. “I never worried that they weren’t safe based on the mitigation strategies. And that was before they got vaccinated.”

“As long as [parents] are clear on what the mitigation strategies are — and in California they’re taking that very seriously — the best thing we could do for our children is to provide them an option for vaccination when it’s available to their age and ensure that they’re following the mitigation strategies, that their schools have clearly marked mitigation strategies,” he said.

“But get them into school. ”

The rest of my interview with Cardona is here.

You may already be a winner

— If you’re the parent of a child under 18, you may have $300 a month coming to you — more if you have more than one kid. My colleague Chris Megerian has this explainer about a big expansion of the federal child tax credit, which is expected to cut child poverty in America in half.

— The Newsom administration’s policy toward going maskless in school is a little like the federal government’s policy regarding marijuana: It’s illegal! (Sort of.) The state has said everyone must wear masks in schools — but school districts are free to enforce that rule loosely or not at all. That has been a source of some confusion for educators and parents (and, to be honest, for reporters). Here’s a look at how the policy is playing out in San Diego, via Kristen Taketa of our sibling newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune.

— Here’s some news that Southern California parents can use: Disney has revamped the Jungle Ride at Disneyland, and it’s apparently still corny, if less racist. The Times’ Todd Martens, whose job involves playing computer games and riding amusement park rides (yes, that’s a job), has the story.

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More news from around the state

— Maybe you’ve reached the point at which you’re no longer shocked by allegations of sexual harassment and abuse, even when it involves teachers and high school students. But it’s hard not to be shocked by this story. The niece of Black Panther founder Huey P. Newton alleges she was the victim of continual sexual abuse by a teacher at Berkeley High School, some of it practically in plain sight. No criminal charges have been filed. San Francisco Chronicle

— It’s been a couple weeks since Independence Day, but some of us are still hearing fireworks on a near-nightly basis. Lest we forget the risks, there’s this late-breaking news about an 8-year-old boy in San Bernardino who was killed by an errant mortar during a July 4 block party. Riverside Press-Enterprise

— No surprise here: New research shows that distance learning during the pandemic hurt high school students socially, emotionally and academically. EdSource. Some other data crunching shows that boys lost more ground than girls academically, at least in Chicago. Chalkbeat

— Slow down and smell the algebra. That, more or less, is the advice experts are giving to educators who worry about students who lost ground in math during the pandemic. Hechinger Report

— In the Santa Clarita area, the William S. Hart Union High School District board agreed to “honorably” retire the high school’s Indians mascot by 2025. No word yet on its replacement. Los Angeles Daily News

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