Psaki grilled on teachers giving in-person instruction to migrant kids before own students

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EXCLUSIVE: White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday was grilled about San Diego public school teachers volunteering to teach migrant children in-person before returning to the classroom to teach the students in their own district.

Psaki seemed to defend the in-person instruction while students are on spring break, saying “context is important.”

Fox News first reported that teachers from San Diego Unified School District are teaching migrant children in person, while SDUSD students are still learning in an online-only format.

The district is expected to move into a hybrid model of in-person and online learning on April 12. Psaki was asked during the press briefing whether the White House supported the arrangement.

“As I understand it, San Diego public schools are opening in early April,” Psaki said. “Students will be back in the classroom — part time — and certainly you know our objective from the White House — 5 days a week for majority of schools across the country.”

Psaki suggested teachers are “volunteering” to teach migrant children during this period.

“The context is important,” she said. “These kids are going back to school for hybrid learning, we of course want this to be five days a week, and we’re confident we’ll get there early next month.”

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria along with other officials are among the group of elected officials who were given a tour of the temporary youth shelter at the center, Saturday, March 27, 2021 in San Diego. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP)
((Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP))

She added: “I believe they’re also on spring break right now. I am not sure if its volunteer, or paid, you’d have to ask a local school district, while the kids are on spring break, which, I think, the context is pretty important.”

A SDUSD spokeswoman confirmed to Fox News the district has shared information about the opportunity for teachers to volunteer teaching migrant children in person during their spring break this week.

She noted she doesn’t know if teachers are getting paid, saying that it’s up to the county.

“The San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) is providing the educational program for the unaccompanied migrant children who will be staying at the San Diego Convention Center through July. All children in California, regardless of immigration status, have a constitutional right to education. We also have a moral obligation to ensure a bright future for our children,” an SDCOE spokesperson told Fox News in an emailed statement.

“The educational program will include English language development and social-emotional learning opportunities. The teachers who are participating in the program are doing so voluntarily, and the program is following a COVID-19 screening protocol based on guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

But parents, and lawmakers, are slamming the move.

“We have 130,000 kids who haven’t been allowed in a classroom for over a year in the San Diego Unified School District. It’s great that there’s in-person learning for those unaccompanied minors from Central America, but I wish every child in San Diego County was allowed the same opportunity for in-person teaching,” San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond told Fox News.

“For more than a year, parents and students in San Diego County have waited for educators to answer one question: When will our schools reopen with in-person instruction only? And for a year, they’ve been told to wait,” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA, told Fox News. “The decision to provide in-person instruction to illegal migrants is outrageous and parents have every right to be angry.”

An SDUSD parent, Emily Diaz, told Fox News that “the system is broken when San Diego teachers are teaching migrant children in person, but the 100k students of taxpaying families at San Diego Unified School District are stuck learning in Zoom school.”

“We agree that every child deserves an in-person education, but why are taxpaying students put last? If this is a humanitarian issue then who is rescuing San Diego Unified students, because our leaders have failed them,” Diaz added.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this month updated K-12 school distancing guidelines to reflect that they can safely reopen while maintaining 3 feet of space between students as long as there is universal mask use.

However, in communities where coronavirus transmission is high, the agency recommends middle school and high school students be at least six feet apart “if cohorting is not possible.”

The agency continues to recommend 6 feet of distance between adults in the building and between adults and students, in common areas such as lobbies and auditoriums, when masks can’t be worn such as when eating, during activities such as singing, shouting, band, sports or exercises, and in community settings outside the classroom.

Fox News’ Peter Hasson and Alexandria Hein contributed to this report.

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