WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday launched an effort to open all the nation’s schools in the fall with students attending in person.
Trump touted an American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that “all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with the goal of having students physically present in school.”
During an extended White House National Dialogue on Safely Reopening America’s Schools event, Vice President Mike Pence disclosed that he warned the nation’s governors during a conference call that federal coronavirus guidelines should not be offered as “the reason any school does not reopen.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield noted that the CDC never recommended widespread school closures when governors and local leaders shuttered classrooms in the spring as the pandemic swept into America.
But National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia disagreed with that approach, saying in a statement “educators want nothing more than to be back in classrooms and on college campuses with our students, but we must do it in a way that keeps students, educators and communities safe.”
Added Eskelsen Garcia: “The reality is no one should listen to Donald Trump or (Education Secretary) Betsy DeVos when it comes to what is best for students. Trump has not once proven credible, compassionate or thoughtful when it comes to this pandemic. He ignored our intelligence agencies warning him of the pandemic.”
Divided on going back
Eskelsen Garcia also slammed Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate for failing to do their job by passing the Moving Forward Act, a measure passed by the Democratic House that includes a $100 billion grant program and $30 billion tax-credit bond program for high-poverty schools.
A Gallup Poll released in June reported 56 percent of parents with children who attend K-12 schools support full-time in-person teaching, compared with 37 percent who want their children to distance learn and attend school part time, and 7 percent want distance-only education for their kids.
The Clark County School District is prepared to open schools on a staggered schedule in the fall.
Pence observed that while the White House was urging schools to open, the decision ultimately resides with governors and local officials.
He said that because “children may be less likely to become infected and to spread infection,” the pediatrician academy guidelines recommended social-distancing recommendations for teachers and students, which could result in staggered class times and meal services, universal face coverings for those who can wear them, frequent handwashing, disinfections and mental health services.
“We’re not defenseless against this virus,” Redfield said, noting that many health care workers cared for COVID-19 patients without getting sick thanks to “great weapons” such as social distancing.
During a phone briefing with reporters, senior administration officials noted the CARES Act already allocated $13 billion for schools to pay for distance learning technology or safety measures in school buildings, with an additional $150 billion from the Coronavirus Relief Fund for state, local and tribal governments to use as they see fit.
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s plan for reopening America promises to cover the costs of personal protective equipment at schools, enhanced sanitation measures, classroom alterations, technology for “new forms of instruction” and training for educators, parents and students.
During a virtual NEA event Friday, Biden told teachers that his win in November would provide the NEA with not just “a partner in the White House. You’ll have an NEA member in the White House,” he said, a reference to his teacher wife, Jill Biden. “And if I’m not listening, I’m going to be sleeping alone in the Lincoln Bedroom,” he said.
Karen Pence, also a teacher and wife to the vice president, kicked off the White House event by talking about the negative effects on children who missed months of school – she said remote education would place more students behind academically and socially.
Jonathan Butcher, a senior policy analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation, said “I think school officials should consider the situation from the vantage point of ‘how can we reopen our schools on-time and in-person’ instead of assuming that closure or hybrid classrooms is a foregone conclusion.”
On Monday, Trump was more combative on the subject as he tweeted. “Corrupt Joe Biden and the Democrats don’t want to open schools in the Fall for political reasons, not for health reasons! They think it will help them in November. Wrong, the people get it!”
In another tweet, Trump typed, “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL.”
Eskelsen Garcia responded, “You forgot to add the word ‘SAFELY.’”