“Don’t underestimate the bully pulpit,” she said. “Truth and trust are so important.”
Mr. Biden’s executive order directs federal agencies to create national school reopening guidelines, to support virus contact tracing in schools and to collect data measuring the impact of the pandemic on students. The White House is also pushing a stimulus package that would provide $130 billion to schools for costs such as virus testing, upgrading ventilation systems and hiring staff.
School leaders are eagerly awaiting additional cash from Washington, which could amount to several thousand dollars per pupil. But they emphasize that it will be equally important for federal officials to directly address the anxiety about in-person work that has swept the teacher corps and that has been given an influential voice in places where teachers’ unions are powerful.
The Trump administration fed that anxiety by demanding schools open while issuing vague and conflicting guidelines about how to do so safely.
Robert Runcie, superintendent of Broward County Public Schools in South Florida, the nation’s sixth-largest district, said he would like to see Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, hold a news conference to discuss schools and “alleviate the fear people have.”
Broward is not doing surveillance testing, but it has published a dashboard tracking known virus cases in its schools — about 2,000 among students and staff since the system reopened in October, serving about a third of its 260,000 students in person. Contact tracing suggested that 10 percent of those cases could have been caused by transmission in schools, Mr. Runcie said, and that the majority of those transmissions were quite likely connected to athletics.
That is in line with other research suggesting that measures like masks can effectively mitigate virus spread in schools.
The district required some teachers with health concerns to return to school buildings this month, in order to avoid a situation in which some students were learning online even within school buildings. In response, the local union sued; the case is currently in arbitration. The district’s bus drivers, food service workers, custodians and clerks are working full time without complaint, Mr. Runcie said.