DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) — U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona joined lawmakers and officials in DeKalb County for a roundtable discussion on Friday. He discussed how a school is using American Rescue Plan funds to improve air quality and addressed COVID safety concerns as students head back to classrooms.

Cardona toured Kelley Lake Elementary School to see firsthand how the school used the funds to improve its ventilation system. “The president’s been talking about it. This community acted on it to make sure that the school has a better ventilation system, better filters, better air quality,” he said, referring to the ventilation as an infrastructure improvement related to the Build Back Better agenda. He joined U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff (D-Georgia), Congresswoman Nikema Williams (D-5th District) and school officials for the discussion. “DeKalb County children can breathe cleaner, healthier air when they come to school, and that’s important in the midst of a pandemic,” Ossoff said. “I’m proud of the work and the partnership with the Secretary of Education to make sure that every child is able to go back to school safely this fall,” said Williams.

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They heard from optimistic parents and members of the community at the roundtable who are ready for students to return to classrooms. Cardona addressed concerns about whether in-person classes are a good idea, considering the COVID variants. “If the mitigation strategies are followed the way CDC guidance tells us to and we take precautionary measures that I know the leaders here are taking, yes,” he said.

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Masks are still required in DeKalb County schools for now. “Eventually, we do want to remove these masks. I don’t think anyone wants to go to school with masks,” Cardona said, adding, “One of the best strategies to prevent transmission is to get vaccinated.” As to whether children under the age of 12 should be vaccinated, Cardona says it’s up to the CDC.

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Officials say cleaner air is also a focus for schools going forward to address other illnesses, like asthma.