Remarks on School Reopening Efforts and an Exchange With Reporters
The President. What an impressive young man.
The First Lady. Yes.
The President. You know, when I was your age—are you going to sit down, babe, or are you going to stand?
The First Lady. Oh, yes. We're going to sit down. I forgot. [Laughter]
The President. No, you don't have to. [Laughter]
Elijah, when I was your age in eighth grade, I wasn't a bad student, but—and I wasn't a bad athlete, but I'll tell you what: I could no more do what you just did than fly. Because I used to talk—t—t—talk—talk like—like that. I stuttered, and especially when I had to do something in public or read aloud. And I am amazed when I see young women and men like you who can stand up and speak with such grace and ease. It's really impressive—really, really impressive.
Well, folks, this is not like the school I went to. [Laughter] When they said we were going to speak outside, I wondered, "Why the hell are we going up all these stairs? [Laughter] I thought we'd be out in the parking lot. I mean, for real. That's where I thought we were going to be.
Elijah, thank you for the introduction. And Jill and I, along with Secretary Cardona and Mayor Bowser, are here because we want you to know how very proud—how very proud—of you and your classmates we all are.
I also want to thank Principal Richardson. I was kidding him. I was saying, "I—this school is really something else." And the way we talked about the interfacing of all the students and the social education that's taking place and how things are changing. And, Chancellor Ferebee, I told you, I think that's maybe the harder job than about anything I can think of. But thank you. You're doing a heck of a job.
We know the start of a school year is an excellent time to mix anticipation and nervousness, and the pandemic adds to that mix of emotions.
And I think about all of the parents I've talked to since the start of this pandemic, worried about the loss of learning of their child, of missed opportunities their child is having because so many of them had to stay at home. We all had to stay at home. But so many of them didn't have access to the internet, didn't have access to—I mean, it just was—didn't have the equipment, worried about whether or not the school lunch program was going to still be available. There was so much anxiety.
And it's not just academics, it's the friendships and the socialization that may be equally as consequential. You know, it's access to critical services, like meals, school counseling that helps the students stay physically and mentally alert.
But I want to—I want folks to know that we're going to be okay. We're going to be okay. We know what it takes to keep our children safe and our schools open, and we have the tools to do it.
Last night I laid out a plan for the fall to beat this pandemic, and basically, it has six parts: Vaccinate the unvaccinated—and thank you for getting the vaccination, and thank your parents for doing that. And protect the—two is to protect the vaccinated. Three is increase testing and masking. Four is to take care of people with COVID. Five is to keep our economy going. And six is keep our children safe and in school and schools open.
Now, any parent—now, for any parent, it doesn't matter how low the risk of any illness is when it could happen to your child. But we all know, if schools follow the science—and they are here—and implement safety measures like vaccinations, testing, masking, then children can be safe in schools, safe from COVID-19.
My plan does all of these things. On vaccinations, it comes down to two separate categories: children ages 12 and older, like Elijah, who are eligible for vaccines—and he got his; children ages 11 and under who are not yet eligible. The safest thing you can do for your child 12 and older is get them vaccinated. That's it: simple, plain, straightforward. Get them vaccinated. So, parents, get your teenagers vaccinated. You've got them vaccinated for all kinds of other things: measles, mumps, rubella. For them to go to school, to be able to play sports, they've had to have those vaccinations. Get them vaccinated.
The COVID-19 vaccine is easy, it is safe, and it's convenient. And we've worked to bring the vaccine clinics to our schools as well. Mayor Bowser has done one heck of job setting—no, you really have, Mayor. You're doing a heck of a job across the board; I really mean that. But I'm—you set up vaccination clinics in about 20 school sites, including here in Brookland—the way the kids are going to continue through the month of September.
So there's really no excuse to not be able. You can get vaccinated. It's not like it's so distant to do.
You know, we're giving prizes and incentives to encourage children and families to get the shots. And look, their efforts are working: 65 percent of the children ages 12 to 17 here in DC have gotten at least one shot, like Elijah. That's incredible. That's one of the highest rates in the Nation for children between the ages of 12 and 17.
And for students here at Brookland, once you all get vaccinated, you're invited to a special visit at the White House. I don't—I'm going to get in trouble with the Secret Service and everybody else, and I'm not sure how we're going to mechanically do it—[laughter]—but I assume the buses can get you to the White House. And if we can't get you all in one room, we'll be out in the Rose Garden or out in the back there and maybe let you fly the helicopters or, no—[laughter]. I'm only joking about that.
I was just downstairs in the science class. It's amazing—and you saw it, Mayor—it's amazing these kids are excited about building a vehicle that can land on the Moon. I really mean it. And I asked them, I said, "How many of you want to go to the Moon?" And everybody but one said they wanted to go to the Moon. [Laughter] I asked, "How many want to go to Mars?" And I think they all raised their hand as well. But it's really—and they're excited about it.
Now, the best way for parents to protect a child under 12 starts at home. Every parent, every teen sibling, every caregiver around them should be vaccinated. Children have four times higher chance of getting hospitalized if they live in an area with low vaccination rates rather than high vaccination rates. It goes for the home as well. There's a high vaccination rate in the home, which significantly diminishes the possibilities.
Now, if you're a parent of a young child, you're wondering when will the vaccine be available for them. I strongly support independent scientific review of vaccine usage for children under 12. But I've told them I will do everything within my power to support the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA, on its ongoing efforts to do the science as safely and as quickly as possible. And our Nation's doctors will keep the public updated on the process so parents can have a plan, to give them the sense of what progress is being made.
The vaccinations of our educators—today, about 90 percent of school staff and teachers are vaccinated. We should have that at 100 percent.
We're requiring vaccination for teachers where I have authority to require it—who work in U.S. Government and educators in Head Start, which is a Federal program because it's funded by the Federal Government. But I'm calling on all Governors to require vaccinations for all teachers and staff. Vaccination requirements in schools were nothing new. They work. They're overwhelmingly supported by educators and their unions.
Now, on school safety measures: In our American Rescue Plan, which we passed early on, we provided the funding for ventilation systems, cleaning and sanitizing services, and critical safety measures to significantly reduce the spread of the virus and protect our children and keep our schools safe. And we will do whatever it takes this school year as well, especially—especially—on increasing testing.
We provided funding through the American Rescue Plan to implement testing in schools for teachers, staffs, and students. And that includes bus drivers as well. I want all—I want all—schools setting up regular testing programs to make sure we detect and isolate cases before they can spread.
I will mobilize American industry to produce [procure]* nearly 300 million more rapid COVID-19 tests for distribution all around the country, including to schools that need them. You know, I'm going to use what we call the Defense Production Act that allows me to ensure that we—what we need made, we can ask the private enterprise to make them because they're of national interest—where they're going to make these tests as quickly as possible, and I'm going to use the Defense Production Act.
My plan will also expand free testing that you can get at one—at 10,000 pharmacies around the country. Walmart, Amazon, and Kroger's will sell at-home rapid tests at cost, which means it will cost—they're going to charge no more than it costs them to buy the tests from the manufacturer. And that will be the same way for the next 3 months. That's a discount about 35 percent—about 35 percent.
This is important for everyone, particularly for a parent of a child not old enough to be vaccinated. You'll be able to test your child at home and to test those around them as well.
And on masking: We know masks work. They are uncomfortable sometimes, and they get tired of wearing them. I understand. I really do. And I wear them in the White House. Under the CDC guidelines, every person in a school—teachers, staff, students—should be masked while indoors.
To all the school officials trying to do the right thing by our children, I will always be on your side no matter how much heat you're getting from outside.
Now let me close with this: I've often said that our children are the kite strings—they're all our children, not just our children; everybody's children—they're the kite strings that lift our national ambitions aloft. That's not hyperbole; that's a fact. We owe it to them to do everything we can to keep them safe in school: dreaming, learning, thriving, socializing, becoming good citizens.
It means following the science, wearing a mask, getting tested, getting vaccinated. It means working together and looking out for each other, like they teach you in school. We can look out for each other. We can do this.
I think you're going to have a great school year. I can see the enthusiasm and the—you just walk in the classroom; there's real enthusiasm. I'm—it's not—I'm sure there's some classrooms I was in through school where anybody walked in, it would be: "Oh, here you go. Eh." [Laughter] But you've been really great. You really have. And, Principal, this is a—you've done a great job here. You really have.
And I think this is—I hope everybody gets to see this. I wish I could take the whole Nation around this—every one of these classrooms and see what's going on, because it's such a great example.
So again, thank you. Have a great school year.
And, Elijah, I'm going to find out if I can—if I can find out when your football games are. I may want to try to figure out without 10,000 Secret Service agents—[laughter]—to come and see you play a little bit. Okay?
Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.
Federal Coronavirus Vaccination Requirements/Partisan Political Climate
Q. Mr. President, what is your message to Republicans who are calling your vaccine requirements an "overreach," who are threatening to challenge it in court?
The President. "Have at it." [Laughter]
Look, I'm so disappointed that particularly some Republican Governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids, so cavalier with the health of their communities. This is—we're playing for real here. This isn't a game. And I don't know of any scientist out there in this field that doesn't think it makes considerable sense to do the six things I've suggested.
And—but you know, it's—let me conclude with this: I—one of the lessons I hope our students can unlearn is that politics doesn't have to be this way. Politics doesn't have to be this way. They're growing up in an environment where they see it's like a war, like a bitter feud. If the—if a Democrat says "right," everybody says "left." If a Democrat says "left," they say "right."
I mean, it's not how we are. It's not who we are as a nation. And it's not how we beat every other crisis in our history. We've got to come together.
And I think the vast majority—look at the polling data, the vast majority the American people know we have to do these things. They're hard, but necessary. We're going to get them done.
NOTE: The President spoke at 10:31 a.m. at Brookland Middle School. In his remarks, he referred to Elijah Pool, student, Brookland Middle School in Washington, DC.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on School Reopening Efforts and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/352190