The following is a transcript of an interview with Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, that aired on Sunday, August 8, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
JOHN DICKERSON: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. The Miami-Dade County public school system is the fourth largest in the country. School starts there in two weeks. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho joins us from Miami- Miami. Mr. Superintendent, let me start with the governor. He signed a- an executive order banning mask mandates in schools. You have about 334,000 students. The governor threatened funding to your school system if there are- is a mask mandate. How are you weighing the governor’s order and the health of your students?
MIAMI-DADE PUBLIC SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT ALBERTO CARVALHO: Good morning, JOHN. Number one, we have been a school system that’s been guided by science all along, We’ve navigated this awful pandemic with the expert advice of public health and medical experts, and we’re not going to abdicate that position. We’ll continue to be a district that’s oriented by the expert advice of professionals. It is sad that currently in America we see this rhetorical narrative that’s deeply influenced by politics rather than- than medicine and the wise advice of those who know best what’s in the best interests of our students and the professionals who teach them. But look, we are in a privileged position in Miami-Dade as we have time in our hands. Most of the school systems in Florida open tomorrow. We have two additional weeks to continue to negotiate, as Secretary Cardona indicated, a- practicable reasonable solutions that achieve two things. Number one, the appropriate protocols for a safe reopening of schools without compromising the health insurances for our students and our teachers while simultaneously avoiding these punitive defunding strategies. That could be a consequence of a defiance of the executive order or the emergency rules that were followed after the publication of the executive order by the Department of Health and Education.
JOHN DICKERSON: When do you think you’ll have to make the call?
CARVALHO: We hope to make the call immediately after our last meeting with the health task force that was convened by the school system over a year ago, which include- which includes individuals like- like U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Dr. Aileen Marty. These are experts in the field who have advised our school system and will continue to advise Miami-Dade County public schools.
JOHN DICKERSON: The governor says that there is the science, but then there is also the mental health of the children, which he says will be significantly affected by wearing masks. How do you as someone who has been in education at the level you have, how do you evaluate that assessment about masks and- and students?
CARVALHO: I think it’s a fair- I think it’s a fair comment that we should have a balanced set of protocols and safeguards that, number one, ensure the health and well-being from a protective, preventive perspective of our students and employees side-by-side, obviously with the psychological impacts that we hope to protect on the part of students. And I think we are- we are poised to be able to do that with technologies that we have in place with much improved contact tracing protocols, much-improved quarantine rules in place. We believe we can do this without, in a deleterious way, impacting the well-being, psychological, mental well-being of students, but also while protecting the health and well-being in the school environment. Look, I am one who is driven by parental choice. We have 75% of our students enrolled in nontraditional programs in Miami-Dade. We are one of the highest performing urban school systems in the country and we hope to be able to negotiate a reopening of schools with protocols that, number one, provide protection for our students with masks while simultaneously avoiding financial consequences–
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask–
CARVALHO: –and perhaps allowing some degree of parental opt-out provisions.
JOHN DICKERSON: You, as I understand it, were a part of a school-district-wide campaign to talk to households where they were reluctant about coming back to school. You apparently had a pretty good track record. You talked to 30 families, got 23 to agree to come back. Can you tell us what those conversations were like?
CARVALHO: Absolutely, JOHN. Look, I think across the country, we have been extremely concerned for a long time over the unfinished learning that we observed in every single state associated with the pandemic and social isolation. We were able to early on, based on early assessments, determined that there were communities of students, particularly English language learners, fragile students who lived in poverty, and students with disabilities who were regressing in a very aggressive way. We identified those students. We called the parents, and the parents, quite frankly, were making decisions driven by two factors, one at work circumstances that put them in a position of keeping their kids at home, often older kids supervising younger kids, which was heartbreaking. Secondly, making decisions on the basis of underlying conditions faced by the parents themselves, a relative or the child. We provided assurance to the parents and we were able to return to the schoolhouse thousands of students who are absolutely better served in a physical environment with a caring professional in front of them rather than distance learning through virtual means.
JOHN DICKERSON: You grew up in Portugal in what you described as pretty dramatic poverty as you have these conversations and look at your community and what has been lost during the period of COVID. Can you give me your assessment of those, the poorest who have schooling as their route to possible opportunity in America, what the damage has been in that community?
CARVALHO: We know, JOHN, that the greatest equalizer in our democratic country is the power of public education, where 90% of our children are educated and that is, you know, so true, particularly when you reference children in poverty who make up 75% of our student population in Miami-Dade. And we know that schools offer that ramp of opportunity, that ramp of hope for these kids. That is why all of our efforts are geared towards welcoming every one of our children back into a physical school in reality, come August 23rd, with acceleration towards full potential for all kids, with longer school days, with summer school opportunities that we built this year servicing serving in excess of 75,000 students, providing additional coaches and interventionists, additional mental health professionals to quite frankly provide a holistic approach that will address the unfinished learning that thousands of kids across America have experienced. And that’s why I tell you, JOHN, we ought to pay less attention to the loud voices that are often disconnected from reason and focus our attention on students, teachers and healthy protective environments while allowing at the same time the mental and social emotional protections for students and some degree, obviously, of qualified parental choice.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right, Superintendent Carvalho, thank you so much for being with us. Good luck with your decision. And we’ll be right back with former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.