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Biden's COVID relief plan to provide billions to help safely reopen schools

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Posted at 6:14 PM, Mar 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-12 18:14:40-05

President Biden’s nearly $2 trillion COVID relief bill will provide billions of dollars to help schools safely reopen, funds meant to support schools all over the country and here in the Tampa Bay area.

The American Rescue Plan allocates $130 billion to help schools safely reopen. The White House says the plan will provide the necessary resources to meet the President’s goal of safely reopening a majority of K-8 schools in the first 100 days.

“Watching a generation of children who may be set back up to a year or more because they’ve not been in school because of the loss of learning. It’s the details of life that matters the most, and we miss those details,” said Biden on Thursday. “The big details and the small moments: weddings, birthdays, graduations. All the things that needed to happen but didn’t.”

It’s been a long year for teachers and students across the Tampa Bay area since March 2020: a year of closures, learning changes, and new safety measures amid a global pandemic.

“It has been one of the toughest years they’ve ever been through,” said Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Nancy Velardi.

On Friday, Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Grego said they were able to successfully open in August by pivoting and adjusting to the conditions and changes. Grego credits part of why they were successful to the support at the state and federal level.

“Now the exciting introduction of the American Rescue Plan act will allow us to sustain these issues, to sustain and enhance them because the most important thing that we can do as educators and as a community is to ensure that we eliminate any academic loss of our children over this last year,” said Grego. “It will allow us to continue to focus on the workforce that are supporting our students and not losing that important workforce. It would allow us to continue to ensure that we eliminate the digital divide through these funds.”

ABC Action News spoke to Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association executive director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins. She said she hopes funds are disbursed in a timely fashion.

“I would hope once some of that money comes here, it potentially will, for instance, save some of the jobs that are being discussed as potential cuts. It will again give us more money to make our schools even safer and up to the challenge,” said Baxter-Jenkins. “It’ll give us money to do maybe a broader range of programs to reach students who’ve potentially experienced learning loss over the course of this year.”

Velardi says she hopes funding means they’ll be able to hire additional teachers and support personnel as well as get more PPE. Velardi explains while teachers are exhausted, she thinks they are proud they’ve helped keep the system going under unprecedented circumstances.

“We want to be back in our classrooms with our kids, all our kids at the same time, not some on a screen,” said Velardi. “I think the teachers more than anyone want normalcy. They really want normalcy, so I think when they are all vaccinated and feel more protected, I think they will be ready to return to normal.”