‘Infrastructure Is Equity’: U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona Tours DeKalb Elementary School

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona visited DeKalb County’s Kelly Lake Elementary School in Decatur on Friday. He came to highlight the way the district has used some of the $311 million it received in federal stimulus money through the American Rescue Plan (ARP).

DeKalb used some of the funds to invest in new ventilation systems. Public health officials say good ventilation in schools helps reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Accompanied by U.S. Representative and Georgia Democratic Party Chair Nikema Williams and Senator Jon Ossoff, Cardona’s visit was also a way for Democrats to promote President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.

“What I’ve seen here today is equity in action,” Cardona said. “The students at this school now have an opportunity to come to a school that has better air quality, [a] better ventilation system because the leaders in this community heard the parents, they heard the educators that said, ‘The air quality here is not too good. We need to improve it to re-open schools safely,’ and they did that.”

Cardona toured the school, stopping in the boiler room and a new water fountains with the capacity to fill students’ water bottles. He held a roundtable for parents and asked for feedback on school re-openings.

Several parents said they were ready for their children to return to class in person. Cardona emphasized the importance of COVID-19 mitigation strategies, such as urging eligible people to get vaccinated and wearing masks in school buildings. Parents like Carla Moore agreed.

“At home as a parent, I keep reminding my children, ‘You’ve got to keep your mask on; you’ve got to keep your mask on,’” Moore said. “I’ve already packed the bookbags with hand sanitizer and the little bitty can of Lysol.”

Cardona also urged parents to have high expectations of their school leaders.

“My wife and I made the decision to send our children to school [last year],” he said. “It was a great decision because they engaged and had a good year. I ask you to do the same thing, ask the tough questions. Don’t expect anything less.”

DeKalb School Board Chair Vickie Turner thanked Cardona for coming and said the community was split about whether the district should require face coverings, which DeKalb ultimately decided to do.

“We are in a mode of recovery,” Turner said. “[There’s] hard work in front of us, but we’re ready for the task. All we can say is thank you.”

As he left, Cardona said he would remember three things about his visit to Kelly Lake. First, the ventilation upgrades. Secondly, Cardona said he was reminded of the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” saying the school community reminded him of a village. To demonstrate the third, Cardona made a pushing motion with his hand, in reference to parents saying they’re ready to push their kids out of the house and back to school.

“So they are ready,” he said to the school leaders. “That means you’ve done your job to build confidence in the community.”